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ETHICS 




tCbe Centucs pbilosopbi? Series 

SasuxETo P. LdkscpBECHT, EUlitor 


ETHICS 


BY 

FRANK CHAPMAN SHARP 

PKOFESSOft OP PBLIlXMOPSnr, ITKXVERSIXr OF WISCOXSIIT 



NAW/sB sabar bamaouh. 


rvhluthed hy THE CENTURY CO 
New York ^ JLondon 



COPYRIGHT^ 1928 , BY THE CENTURY CO. 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THE 
RIGHT TO REPRODUCE THIS BOOK, OR 
PORTIONS THEREOF, IN ANY FORM. 389 


P R I N -T E D IN X:. 


6. A. 



CONTENTS 


CHAPTER PAOH 

I THE PROBLEMS OP ETHICS 3 

BOOK L THE RIGHT 

n EVERYDAY STANDARDS OF EIGHT 21 

HI THE CONFLICT OF INTERESTS 37 

IV THE OBJECT OP THE MORAL JUDGMENT 62 

V EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND THE DESIRE TO HARM ... 64 

VI THE SOURCES OF MORAL JUDGMENTS 92 

VII THE MEANING OF RIGHT 107 

VIII THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 115 

IX SOME SUPPLEMENTARY PROBLEMS OF RIGHT . . . 142 

X iBSTHETIO JUDGMENTS UPON CONDUCT AND THE IN- 
TRINSIC VALUE OF CHARACTER 154 

XI THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 171 

XII THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY UPON MORAL JUDG- 
MENTS 204 

XIII RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 238 

XIV THE STANDARD OF RIGHT IN ITS RELATION TO PRACTICE 270 

XV SOME FARTHER APPLICATIONS OF THE STANDARD TO 

PRACTICE 286 

XVI TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 304 

XVH TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 330 

BOOK II. THE GOOD 

XVIII THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 357 

XIX THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 394 

XX THE COMPARISON OF VALUES 412 

XXI THE GOOD AND THE RIGHT 451 


V 



Vi CONTENTS 

BOOK m. SELF-SACRIFICE 

CEAFTSB PAOB 

xxn 18 SELF-SAGBIFICE necessart! 463 

zxm IS SELF-SACRIFICE REASONABLE t 479 

NOTES 493 

BIBUOOSAFHY 531 

CONTEMPORABT AUTHORS QUOTED 547 

INDEX 551 



ETHICS 




ETHICS 


Chapter I 

THE PROBLEMS OF ETHICS 

The professor of applied mathematics was talking to a group 
of half a dozen undergraduates about playing the game of life, 
when one of them interrupted with the words: **How can we 
play the game when we donT know where the goal posts are?” 
It is the function of ethics to help men find the goal posts of life. 

The subject matter of ethics is supplied by two intimately 
related terms, right and good. It deals, first, with those judgments 
upon actions in which we call them right or wrong, worthy of 
moral approbation or disapprobation. It deals also with our use 
of the terms good and bad. When we call conduct good we are 
indeed using the word as a synonym of right. But good is ap- 
plicable to a much wider range of objects. A pen, a stroke at 
billiards, a dinner, a joke, a musical composition, may be good; 
and I may speak of my own good, or that of my family or my 
country. Some moralists concentrate their attention upon one 
of these terms to the exclusion of the other. But each raises its 
own problems and has its own diflSculties; and a picture of the 
moral life which is not drawn with equal reference to both is in- 
complete and distorted and in so far false. 

The fundamental questions raised by our judgments of right 
and wrong may be formulated as follows: (1) What actions have 
been and are regarded as right or wrong by the members of the 
human race? (2) What actions are really right? (3) What is the 
meaning of the adjective right as applied to actions? 

The first of these questions, of course, is a problem of classi- 
fication. Just as zoology describes at a stroke innumerable living 
creatures by calling them vertebrates, in virtue of the common 
possession of a certain type of structure, so ethics is bound to 

3 



4 


ETHICS 


supply us with a list of all the fundamental forms or classes of 
actions that call forth moral approbation and disapprobation. 
We shall see in Chapters II and III, that this is by no means a 
hopeless task. 

As we study the findings of descriptive ethics we shall discover 
that opposite attitudes are often taken by different persons 
towards precisely the same act. For example, there has been the 
greatest possible variety of opinion about the morality of re- 
venge; some holding it to be a right to which the aggrieved is 
entitled if he wishes to avail himself of it; others going farther 
and regarding it as a sacred duty; while still others look upon 
it as a heinous wrong. Here, accordingly, emerges the second 
problem of ethics, namely. What modes of action are really right, 
apart from what any particular race or age or person may think 
about the matter? 

The representatives of the view called Subjectivism deny this 
problem any place whatever in ethical theory. For me to call an 
action right, they say, simply means that I like it; to call it 
wrong, in like manner, means that I dislike it. Since there is no 
disputing about tastes the utmost the moralist can do is to point 
out that a given action is attractive to some minds and repulsiye 
to others. 

The claims of our second problem to a place in a theory of 
ethics will thus have to be decided by our answer to the third. 
What is the meaning of the word right? It certainly seems remark- 
able that we should have to go to the special student for the 
meaning of a term which we use with a fair degree of accuracy 
every day in the week. But there is nothing exceptional about 
this fact. Only recently the president of the American Bankers* 
Association, in an address delivered to the leading bankers of the 
country, declared that not twenty per cent of his audience could 
give a satisfactory definition of the word bank. If the reader will 
attempt to define such words as 'probable, essential, caiLse, time, 
he will discover, provided he succeeds in keeping himself free 
from barren tautologies, that to use a term correctly is one thing, 
to be able to tell what it means is quite another. 

Intimately related with the third problem is a fourth which has 
to do with the source of moral distinctions in the mind. What 



THE PROBLEMS OF ETHICS 6 

is it within us which causes us to make these distinctions — 
to approve some kinds of actions as right, to disapprove others 
and brand them as wrong? The nature of the relationship which 
obtains between this problem and that of the meaning of right 
and wrong will become clear as we proceed. Here it is only pos- 
sible to assert the relationship as a fact. 

There are other important problems in this department of 
ethics, but those just enumerated are the fundamental ones in 
the sense that everything else depends upon our answer to them. 

The study of the good and the bad follows exactly the same 
lines as that of the right and the wrong. Concerning these terms 
we shall in like manner ask: (1) What do the various members 
of the race regard as good or bad? (2) What things, if any, can 
properly be said to be ^^really^' good? (3) What is the meaning 
of good? To these, also, may be added a fourth: What is the 
source in the mind of the distinction between good and bad? 
This department of ethics is often called ‘^theory of value.” * 

A great deal of ink has been shed in the discussion of the 
question whether ethics is a purely descriptive science, like psy- 
chology, which contents itself with analyzing the complex struc- 
ture of the mind and formulating the laws of its working, without 
any reference to the validity of its deliverances; or whether it 
is a normative science, like logic, whose function is to lay down 
norms or rules for the guidance of thought. Subjectivists, as we 
have seen, deny the existence in the moral world of any norms 
or standards binding on anyone except the person who happens 
to feel their obligatoriness. For those, on the other hand, who 
believe in the existence of rules of conduct valid for the entire race 
the normative problems of ethics form an integral part of the 
subject, and from the point of view of practice, perhaps the most 
important part. Of this second group I count myself a member. 
But I must insist that if the moralist who is primarily interested 
in the field of normative ethics is to do anything more than beat 
the air he must know the human conscience through and through. 
He must have a picture in his mind's eye of its structure and 
workings, which is at once detailed and accurate. And he must 
be familiar with its leading manifestations in whatever race or 

♦ See Notes, I, “The Unity of the Right and the Good,” page 493. 



6 


ETHICS 


period they may be found. If he turns his back on these studies 
or merely dabbles with them, then what he is pleased to call his 
''conclusions'' in the normative field will be nothing but the 
product of his personal equation, a batch of formulas which 
happen to appeal to his temperament and tastes. Any thorough- 
going investigation of the phenomena of the moral life will thus 
include within its purview description and explanation on the 
one hand, and the determination of validity, on the other; and 
will therefore insist, in the face of all attempts to truncate our 
science, that ethics is both descriptive and normative.* 

Before setting forth upon our survey of the moral world it may 
be well to consider for a few moments what gain we may expect 
from our expedition. 

In this age which sets its heart so undividedly upon the prac- 
tical that it does not know how to be really practical, the profit 
which one feels most like emphasizing is that which the astrono- 
mer might urge in behalf of the claims of his science. To me at 
least it seems enough to say that ethics widens the field of vision 
and thus enriches life by the addition of interests which may 
grow deeper and broader with each passing year. The astronomer 
goes from his observatory to everyday life and back again. But 
the student of ethics dwells perpetually within an observatory 
where, night and day, the panorama of the moral life, now 
magnificent, now grotesque, now inspiring, now dispiriting, but 
always fascinating, is perpetually unrolling itself before his eyes. 
What gravitation is to the solar system, that is morality to social 
life. Should the bonds by which it unites men dissolve, human 
society would in that moment perish from the earth. So that in 
studying moral phenomena we are not examining some flourish 
on the scroll of life, but in very truth the foundations of social 
existence. 

This consideration in itself would for some of us afford a suffi- 
cient reason for the study of ethics; but it is far from forming 
the only one. In order to guide our steps aright in this world of 
alternating twilight and darkness we need to understand thor- 
oughly our own nature, including our moral nature. "Know thy- 

♦ See Notes, I, ^^Ethics as a Study of Conduct," page 493. 



THE PROBLEMS OF ETHICS 7 

self” was the inscription over the temple of the oracle at Delphi. 
'‘Most men know no more of their inner self than they do of 
Central Africa,” wrote Channing, addressing an age which knew 
nothing whatever of Central Africa. If we are to guide, to coun- 
sel, or to command others, we must understand their nature also. 
When we study the records of human life through history and 
literature, ethics will help us to see the significance of much that 
would otherwise be opaque to our eyes; and it will direct our 
attention to much which without it we should have entirely over- 
looked. If we turn our gaze to the future and inquire what we 
can do to make human beings more honorable, more just, more 
sympathetic, more strong, it is ethics that must set our feet in 
the path we are to tread, because it is precisely ethics that tells 
us what honor, justice, sympathy, and strength of character are, 
what are their sources in the mind, and what is the secret of 
their appeal. If looking at the constant increase in the complexity 
of human life, in the volume and variety of its temptations, in 
the intimacy of the dependence of man on man, we ask, will the 
race prove equal to its new tasks, tasks the like of which this 
world has never before seen? the most important part of our 
answer to this question of questions, if answer there be, must 
come from the study of ethics. 

For a reflective mind the intellectual temper of our age is such 
as to increase enormously the difficulty of devotion to duty. All 
sorts of voices are making themselves heard, proclaiming, each 
in its own manner, that the good man is a fool for his pains; or 
if not a fool, something worse. Moral standards, cries one, are 
for the emancipated soul nothing but the shadow of a bogy. They 
are the mere expressions of social customs which owe their origin 
ultimately to the egoism of some leader possessed of prestige, 
or to the whims of the multitude; having, in either event, no 
deeper foundations than the dislike some people feel for eating 
rabbits. Morality, insists another, is not childish folly, but is a 
deadly prejudice which must be eradicated from the minds of 
the intellectually enfranchised at whatever cost. Human society 
consists of two strata, the master class and the herd. As against 
the few select members of the first group the great body of human 
beings who compose the second have no more rights than the dirt 



8 


ETHICS 


under our feet. For the former to allow themselves to be duped 
or terrorized by moral scruples in their dealings with the latter 
is for the strong to bind themselves with fetters and give the 
key to the weak. It is to splash the picture of one's life with 
mud, and to strike a deadly blow at all that is beautiful in human 
existence. To a man struggling in the grip of some fierce tempta- 
tion come voices such as these. No wonder that he often cries 
with young Glaucon in Plato's Republic, “My ears are so dinned 
with what I hear that I am bewildered." 

Now ethics can offer no specific for this state of mind. “You 
cannot believe in honor," writes Bernard Shaw, “until you have 
achieved it;" and until you have come to believe in it, you cannot 
even understand what the moralist is talking about. Ethics de- 
scribes the moral experience; and where there is no moral experi- 
ence, it is as futile to talk about it as to talk about a rainbow to 
a man born blind. It was for this reason that Aristotle declared 
that “Nothing but a good moral training can qualify a man to 
study what is noble and just, — in a word to study questions of 
[ethics] ." 

But to him who is essentially sound in character, even though 
he may be “perplexed in the extreme," ethics can reveal the 
significance of the moral life so that he can see for himself its 
eternal necessity, its beneficence, its beauty, and its reasonable- 
ness. Thus divided councils within the mind can be replaced by 
a purpose which can command every resource of the will because 
it represents a harmony of impulse founded upon insight. 

Right action involves two factors, the knowledge of what is 
right and the desire to do it. Often the path of duty lies so com- 
pletely open before us that to miss our way is impossible. Often 
again it would be easy to see what is right if it were not for the 
will to believe that the path of duty must be coincident with 
the path of pleasure or self-interest. Not infrequently, however, 
even the most intelligent and high-minded find themselves puz- 
zled by the novelty or the complexity of the moral problems 
which they are compelled to face, whether in their own individual 
lives, or in their capacity as citizens, or as students of the social 
sciences. It may be worth our while to glance hastily at a few 
of these problems, in order that We may have some realization 



THE PROBLEMS OF ETHICS 9 

of the extent of the field in which men must look to ethics for 
aid in determining what to do. 

Most of the institutions of society supply the subject matter 
of some one social science. In this division of labor the study 
of the family and the problems of population, and the examina- 
tion of our penal and charitable institutions, have fallen to the 
province of sociology. In these great fields, it is obvious, all the 
most important problems are ethical, and the majority of them 
are difScult. 

Turning to the world of business relations with which eco- 
nomics is concerned we find the production and distribution of 
goods based largely upon the competitive principle. People dis- 
tinguish between fair and unfair competition. What, then, is fair 
competition, and how can you tell the one from the other? Some 
of the most serious problems in our American economic life are 
due to certain practices which till recently have been almost uni- 
versally regarded as quite innocent, and indeed as a normal fea- 
ture of the competitive system. One of these is the practice of 
selling below cost in order to drive a rival either out of a 
particular territory or out of business altogether.^ Is this a fair 
method of competition? If not, what becomes of the time-honored 
maxim that a man is free to sell to whom he pleases, and on what 
terms he pleases? Beneath these concrete questions lies another, 
far more fundamental: Is the term fair competition a contra- 
diction? Is the whole competitive system immoral from top 
to bottom? There are those who answer this question with a 
vigorous aflBrmative, and in consequence demand an entire revo- 
lution in our economic institutions. 

The thoughtful and sympathetic man must needs be troubled 
at the problems raised not merely by the production but also by 
the distribution of wealth. What constitutes a fair wage for a 
given kind and amount of labor? What is a fair return for the 
sacrifice involved in saving out of income in order to provide 
capital? What is a fair payment for the risks involved in its em- 
ployment? We hear much today of the ‘‘living wage.” Can the 
proposition be defended that every worker is morally entitled 

* Consult W. S. Stevens, Unfair Competition, especially the last 
chapter. 



10 


ETHICS 


to a “living wage?” Our country has witnessed within a genera- 
tion the introduction and wide extension of the inheritance tax. 
Here is a method of paring down or in fact extinguishing great 
— and small — fortunes within comparatively short periods of 
time; and if society comes to believe this is the right thing to 
do, society will certainly proceed to do it. The progress of events 
thus compels us to face the group of questions connected with 
the right of inheritance. They, like the problem of the fair wage 
and the fair price, are all parts of a much broader problem: What 
constitutes a just distribution of wealth? 

If we turn our attention to political life, we face new problems 
which insurgent minds and the march of events are thrusting 
more and more into the foreground. The state represents force. 
By what right does the state compel the unwilling to bend to its 
demands? And if this question can be answered satisfactorily in 
general terms, are there no fields where I have the right to be 
left to my own devices, where I may do what I will with my 
own? How determine where I ought to be free and where I ought 
to be subject to authority? 

The most pressing of these issues are perhaps those which have 
to do with the relation of the state to the economic activities of 
its citizens. A generation ago the prevailing public opinion was 
that represented by the following words from a baccalaureate 
address by the president of a prominent university. “Capital, 
and when I say capital, I mean the men in control of capital, has 
an absolute right to determine the wages it will pay for the labor 
it seeks. This follows from the unquestionable right of every man 
to determine the price which he will pay for what he desires to 
buy.” But the time has come when this “unquestionable right” 
has been questioned to such effect that a large number of our 
states have empowered commissions, especially created for the 
purpose, to determine what is the minimum wage that may be 
paid by manufacturers to their women and children operatives. 
This means that the employer must surrender to these employees 
the difference between the market price and what the community, 
acting through its representatives, regards as the lowest wage 
which it is desirable that they should receive. Many friends of 
the working class look upon this legislation as the beginning of 



THE PROBLEMS OF ETHICS 11 

a new era of economic justice. Many employers, on the other 
hand, consider it to be nothing better than legalized robbery. 
Which party is right? * 

The legislation just referred to is but a single illustration of 
tremendous changes now taking place, in regard to which every 
educated man and woman ought to have a reasoned opinion of his 
own. 

In the field of foreign relations we find ourselves threading 
a maze even more complicated than that into which we have 
been thrust by domestic affairs. Have nations moral obligations 
to each other? To be specific, what duties has the United States 
to a world which in 1917 was to be made safe for democracy? 
Were the territorial settlements established after the World War 
based upon principles of justice? What are the principles of just 
settlement in such a matter? For example, ought the readjust- 
ments of boundary lines to have been left to the decisions of the 
inhabitants of the territories in question? In other words, do 
governments derive their just powers solely from the consent of 
the governed? If so, what becomes of the right of the North to 
put down the attempt of the Southern states to withdraw from 
the Union in 1861? If not, what becomes of the right of the 
American colonies to revolt from Great Britain in 1776? If the 
solutions of these and kindred problems hit upon by the peace 
conference were not substantially just, and if there are to be 
no readjustments in the future there will be a new world war 
in the course of a generation, because men of spirit will risk 
anything and suffer anything rather than submit permanently 
to what they regard as gross injustice. 

“In the everyday transactions of life the average man is gov- 
erned, not by statute, but by common law, or at most by statute 
built upon a substratum of common law, modifying in detail only, 
the common law foundation.” ® And in addition to judge-made 

*The fact that the United States Supreme Court has recently declared 
this legislation unconstitutional does not permanently settle the question. 
In England and some of the commonwealths of the Empire the principle 
of the minimum wage has been applied to almost every calling where 
there has been any serious demand for it. If the demand is equally 
insistent in this country some way will be found to satisfy it. 

•Cardozo, The Growth of the Law, 1924, p. 136. 



12 


ETHICS 


common law, we have other bodies of important judge-made law, 
growing out of the interpretation of constitutions and statutes by 
courts. 

A number of forces have operated to make the common law, 
like other judge-made law, what it is. The most important, per- 
haps, is the judges* sense of justice. The rules of common law 
have been developed in controversies not governed by existing 
rules of law, which judges have been called upon to decide. In 
deciding, the judges have had to make use of such conceptions 
of justice as they were able to muster into service. 

^^Cases without precedent,** writes Professor Gray, ''are more 
frequent than persons not lawyers generally suppose.** * “In our 
appellate tribunals,** says Dean Pound, “the diflSculty that brings 
the cause up for review is usually that legal rules and legal con- 
ceptions have to be applied by analogy to causes that depart from 
the type for which the precept was devised or given shape. Such 
departures vary infinitely. Cases are seldom exactly alike. Hence 
choice from among competing analogies and choice from among 
competing modes of analogical development are the staple of 
judicial opinions.** ® Judge Cardozo has expressed a view about 
the modification of unworkable decisions, which has been given 
effect by his great court, the New York Court of Appeals. 
“Through one agency or another, either by statute or by decision, 
rules, however well-established, must be revised when they are 
found after fair trial to be inconsistent in their workings with 
an attainment of the ends which law is meant to serve . . . Some 
of this cleansing of ancient plague spots, the judges ought to do 
themselves.** ® 

The development of law by judges through the application of 
ethical conceptions is exemplified by the following decision of 
the New York Court of Appeals. The judge who wrote the opin- 
ion in the case, Judge Cardozo, is one of those w^ho insist most 
strongly upon the importance of ethics for the development of 
the law.^ 

* Nature and Sottrcea of the Law, 2iid Edition, 1921, p. 100. 

*Law and Morals, 1924, pp. 64-65, *Op. cit., p. 120. 

’The case was H 3 aies v. N. Y. C. R. R. Co., 231 N. Y. 229 (1921). See 
also 35 Harvard Law Review 68. Cardozo later commented on the opinion 
of the court, which he wrote, and its decision, in The Growth of the Law, 



THE PROBLEMS OF ETHICS 13 

A boy of sixteen was swimming in a public river. He went 
upon a spring-board which had been used by swimmers for five 
years, and which was fastened to land belonging to the New 
York Central Railroad Company. “As he stood there, at the end 
of the board, poised for his dive into the stream, electric wires 
fell upon him, and swept him to his death below.” The wires were 
maintained by the Railroad Company for the operation of its 
trains. The boy’s administratrix, in charge of his estate, tried to 
recover damages for his death, claiming that the Railroad Com- 
pany had been careless in maintaining its wires. Two New York 
Courts said she could get no damages even if the Railroad Com- 
pany had been careless; since the boy was a trespasser on the 
Company’s property, and the Company had no duty to take care 
to make its premises safe for him. 

The administratrix appealed to the Court of Appeals. Among 
other arguments, her lawyer urged that the boy was like a trav- 
eler on a public highway, who naturally goes a little off the road 
onto adjacent land. The courts have held that the owners of 
land adjacent to highways must use reasonable care to make 
their land safe for travelers who naturally go a little off the way. 
If you carelessly leave on your land an unprotected hole right 
next to a highway, and a person who is not himself acting care- 
lessly drives a car into it on a dark night, you must pay for the 
resulting damages. If the boy had been swimming in the stream 
at the moment of his death, this rule would have applied to his 
case. But he was standing on the board over the stream. 

“The administratrix found the analogy that suited her in the 
position of travelers on a highway . . . The owner found the 
analogy to its liking in the position of a trespasser on land . . . 
Now, the truth is that, as a mere bit of dialectics, these analogies 
would bring a judge to an impasse. No process of merely logical 
deduction could determine the choice between them. Neither 
analogy is precise, though each is apposite. There had arisen a 
new situation which could not force itself without mutilation 
into any of the existing moulds. When we find a situation of this 
kind, the choice that will approve itself to this judge or to that 

pp. 99-103. One of the quotations in the text is from the opinion and 
the others are from the book. 



14 


ETHICS 


will be determined largely by his conception of the end of the law, 
the function of legal liability, and this question of ends and 
functions is a question of philosophy [ethics].” 

In this situation, the philosophy of the lawyer for the adminis- 
tratrix won the day, and the decisions of the two lower courts 
were reversed by a four to three vote of the Court of Appeals. 

think there was no moment when he was beyond the pale 
of the defendant’s duty,” declared the majority opinion, ‘^the 
duty of care and vigilance in the storage of destructive forces.” 

Legislative enactment has not infrequently helped in clarifying 
and developing the rules governing our everyday affairs. Such 
enactments, hov/ever, often become the basis of further judicial 
''construction” and development of the law. Legislatures cannot 
hope to provide for all the varied disputes which must be settled 
by the courts. Much of the ancient task of leavening the rules of 
the law with changing ideas of right must accordingly be en- 
trusted to "the judges who decide and the lawyers who persuade.” 
The work can be done most satisfactorily by a bench and bar 
with a thorough knowledge of ethical principles. 

There are, indeed, limits to the extent to which ethical ideas 
will work themselves into law.® Unlike most legislation, judicial 
decisions apply to past transactions; and courts must be careful, 
particularly in dealing with property acquired and commercial 
transactions entered into on the faith of existing rules of law, 
not unfairly to upset "vested rights.” In some situations it seems 
morally indifferent what rule of law shall be adopted; and the 
only requirement seems to be that there shall be a rule and that 
it shall be obeyed. Again certain moral duties can not be dealt 
with by courts, because of the limitations of legally trained 
intelligence and the peculiarities of legal procedure. Informed 
laymen and the best judges set limits to their faith in judicial 
ability wisely to strike out in new directions in the development 
of law. Legislatures have less need than courts of caution in 
innovation. Finally, we do not commonly trust judges with great 
discretion in administering the law. Uniformity, as far as it is 
humanly possible, is an essential quality rof law; and it is prob- 

•See Pound, Law and Morals, Ch. II, passim. 



THE PROBLEMS OF ETHICS 15 

ably an inevitable result that sometimes legal rights are unfairly 
protected. 

These qualifications, however, are probably not so rigid as 
some thinkers seem to suppose. And with all these limitations, 
our thesis remains true: Ethical ideas are of fundamental im- 
portance in the development and administration of law. 

Sociolog>", economics, political science, and law, are thus like 
ethics in that they either have, or ought to have, two depart- 
ments, one describing and explaining what is and has been, the 
other critical or normative in character, setting forth what ought 
to be. Many of the problems of the critical portions of these sci- 
ences are indeed purely technical ; they are concerned solely with 
the discovery of the means best fitted to attain a predetermined 
end. Such a problem is that of the comparative merits of the 
city manager as against the old-fashioned mayor and council as 
an agency of eSicient municipal government. But as soon as there 
arises in any problem of human affairs, whether technical or 
otherwise, a conflict between the interests of different parties, 
or the necessity of determining the value of different ends, there 
at once questions of moral rights make their appearance and 
moral considerations demand a hearing. And since the moral law 
claims sovereignty over all our significant actions, it must always 
have the last word. 

It must not be supposed for a moment that ethics is in a posi- 
tion to supply us with a pass-key with which to open all these 
doors by a mere turn of the hand. One might as well argue that 
the possession of sailing orders on the part of the captain dis- 
penses with the necessity of a knowledge of the art of navigation, 
and the use of compass, sextant, and chart. Unfortunately, too, 
the best sailing orders which ethics is capable of supplying take 
the form of rules sometimes so abstract that their application to 
concrete situations presents very serious difficulties. In what 
respect its insights are more definite than those of the ordinary 
man is precisely what we are to discover as we proceed. The 
moralist will insist that the directions which it supplies can be 
used to make conduct at once more consistent and more com- 
pletely adapted to the demands of the situation. At the same 



16 


ETHICS 


time, if he is wise, he will not allow the reader to suppose that 
there is being placed in his hands any of the much advertised 
substitutes for thought. 

Before turning to our study of the problems of ethics a few 
words must be said about the subject of terminology. The term 
right, as commonly employed even with reference to moral phe- 
nomena, is unfortunately ambiguous. When I say, I am going 
to keep my promise because it is right to do so, right means that 
the refusal so to act would be blameworthy. A right action in 
this sense is commonly spoken of as a duty. Less frequently right 
is used to include the praiseworthy. It may be right in this sense 
for me to give liberally of my goods for the benefit of the city 
charities. Unforf/Unately it is sometimes used to mean the inno- 
cent or morally indifferent, as when I ask whether it is right to 
play cards for money. In this book I shall not employ right in 
this third sense at all. As will appear during the course of our 
study there is no real difference in principle between the first 
and the second meanings of the term. We praise a man for his 
intellectual qualities when they rise strikingly above the average 
of those with which we happen to be familiar. Similarly in the 
moral world; regard for other people’s interests is praised when 
it represents a standard distinctly higher than that which pre- 
vails in the same community; otherwise it arouses no particular 
comment. The saint of a gang of thieves would be regarded as 
an undesirable citizen in a respectable village. Poor old Simon 
Lee, dragging out his solitary life among churlish neighbors, is 
overwhelmed with admiration and gratitude when Wordsworth 
does him a trivial favor. As a matter of fact, we are morally 
bound to do what is worthy of praise just as truly as we are 
that which is commonly called duty. In other words, we are 
bound to rise above mediocrity. Since the distinction between 
right in the first and second senses is thus, at bottom, artificial 
I shall use the same word to cover both. 

Right, in the sense just indicated, and ought are essentially 
synonymous. But common speech makes a distinction between 
them which may be worth a moment’s attention. In the Atlantic 
Monthly for May, 1916, in “Notes on Authors,” there appeared 
a statement made by a man who had been a member of the 



THE PROBLEMS OF ETHICS 17 

French Foreign Legion. He was invalided at the time of writing. 
But he declared the war had raised his spirits to such sublime 
heights that he longed to get back to the trenches. Contrast this 
statement with the letter written by a New England College boy 
to his sister upon his enlistment in the Union Army in the Civil 
War. frankly tell you I do most heartily wish I could stay 
at home; it has cost me a great deal of suffering to give up my 
college course; but I consider the question simply a test of my 
courage and manliness; I believe the cause for which this war 
is undertaken is a just and politic one, that it needs a million 
hands to carry it on, and that every man that is free from the 
burden of supporting others ought to give up his time, the further- 
ance of his own plans, and, if need be, his life, to help in assuring 
the ultimate triumph of this cause.*' The right, we see, may be 
done with joy or accepted with sorrow and shrinking of spirit. 
In the latter case we commonly say we shall act thus because 
we feel we ought. Ought, then, points to the recognition of a 
course of action as right, this recognition qualified by a shrinking 
from the action as involving effort, loss, or suffering. Duty and 
obligation are often used in the same sense. It is possible a 
specialist in linguistics could detect additional differences in 
meaning between these words, but the discussion of this subject 
w^ould belong rather to the dictionary than to a work on ethics. 
The fundamental term is clearly right; and this it is which I shall 
employ throughout the following study. 

We may distinguish between judgments of right and judgments 
of good. The first are reducible to the form: The action A is right 
(or wrong) ; the second to the form, the experience A is good, in 
the sense of worth having (or bad, in the sense of worthy of 
avoidance). But in ordinary usage they are called moral judg- 
ments and judgments 0 / value, and these are the terms I shall 
commonly employ. 

The moral judgment may be conceived of as involving three 
parties. A man, for example, breaks a promise. There are the 
promisor A, the promisee B, and the person C who judges A's 
conduct to be wrong. The person who acts I shall usually speak 
of as ^‘the agent.” The person who is acted upon I may sometimes 
refer to as “the patient.” The third party, who condemns or 



18 


ETHICS 


approves, I shall call ''the judge.” It goes without saying that 
the moral judgment does not require the presence of three per- 
sons, for A may be not only agent but also judge of his own con- 
duct; and B may be not merely patient but also judge of A’s 
conduct. 

The subject of our study is not primarily, at any rate, the 
sophisticated conscience of the special student of ethics; it is 
rather that of the ordinary man who is uninfluenced, at least in 
any direct way, by the theories of moralists. This man I shall 
call "the layman;” his judgments I shall speak of as "lay judg- 
ments,” and his conscience as the "lay conscience.” 



Booh I 


THE RIGHT 




Chapter II 

EVERYDAY STANDARDS OF RIGHT 

Ethics, as we have seen, attempts to describe our judgments of 
right, to explain them in the sense of showing whence they arise 
and how they come to be what they are, and finally, in case it 
should turn out that there is more than one type, to determine, 
if possible, which is valid or “correct.” In such a program de- 
scription is always fundamental. We accordingly begin our sys- 
tematic study of these judgments with an account of them as we 
find them in the men and women about us, and shall seek to 
determine, first, the nature of the standard or standards which 
lie at their foundation. A standard of moral judgment is that to 
which an action must conform if it is to be called right. It repre- 
sents some characteristic or quality of actions which, if possessed, 
will lead the judge to approve them. What this characteristic is, 
or what these characteristics are, we have now to inquire. 

Rival Accounts of Everyday Standards of Moral Judgment 

Two very different accounts of the layman's standards will be 
found in the writings of moralists. To understand their signifi- 
cance we must remember that a very considerable part of our 
duty is presented to us in our youth by our parents or other 
members of society in the form of general rules, such as, “Thou 
shalt not steal;” “Thou shalt tell the truth.” According to one 
account these rules appeal immediately to the layman as right, 
and that is all there is to be said about the subject. He perceives 
no gain for any human being or for society as a whole as a conse- 
quence of the act, and he asks for none. When, for example, he 
pronounces the keeping of a certain promise right he does not 
think of the benefits that will accrue through this act either to 
the promisee or to society as a whole; or if he does, such con- 
siderations do not affect his judgment as to the morality of the 
act. Accordingly the question of what it is right or wrong to do 

21 



22 


ETHICS 


in a given situation can only be determined by asking whether 
the proposed action can be subsumed under some general law, as 
that against theft, lying, or uncharitableness of judgment. A large 
number of contemporary writers on ethics, representing in other 
respects very different schools of thought, would regard the above 
description as essentially correct. 

According to the rival view judging an action to be wrong 
involves the belief that it will harm some person, persons, or 
group of persons within the range of its effects, or else deprive 
them of some advantage or good. Similarly an action is judged 
right in virtue of the fact that it is believed to be calculated to 
confer benefit upon or prevent harm to some or all of those whose 
interests it will affect. 

Most of those who accept the first view hold what I shall call 
the social pressure theory of the moral consciousness. They 
believe that the moral judgments of the overwhelming majority 
of human beings, the members of civilized society as well as of 
primitive races, are borrowed property ; in other words, that such 
judgments are what have been called ^^imitative,^^ as dis- 
tinguished from '^original.” ^ The average layman, it is claimed, 
accepts the fact that certain things are right and others wrong 
in blind deference to the authority of public opinion; just as a 
man who is tone deaf might assent to the statement of the 
connoisseur that Beethoven^s symphonies are masterpieces of 
musical composition. It may indeed be true that the seer, or 
the special student, or perhaps the layman of exceptional intelli- 
gence and habits of reflection is aware of the intimate relation 
which actually obtains between human welfare and the acts 
commonly approved or condemned. But this has been hidden 
from babes and revealed only to the wise and prudent. Accord- 
ing to this theory the moral standards of the race consist in a 
jumble of rules, without organic relation to each other, reducible, 
possibly, to five or six in number, or perhaps running up into 
the hundreds or even thousands. 

*McDougall, Social Psychology, p. 216 . The social pressure theory is 
subjected to a direct examination in Chapter XII, below. An alternative 
theory which reaches the same conclusion by a very different route is dis- 
cussed under the name of Intuitionism in Chapter XVI. It once played 
a very important r 61 e but now has few adherents. 



EVERYDAY STANDARDS OF RIGHT 


23 


In contradiction to such a view, this Chapter will contend that 
in civilized society at any rate the great body of our moral judg- 
ments is based upon the belief that the conduct in question is 
conducive to the welfare or harm, as the case may be, of some 
conscious being or beings thereby affected. This does not mean 
necessarily that the layman has discovered this relationship by 
his own unaided powers, but merely that whether with or without 
the help of others, he more or less clearly sees it himself. The 
evidence upon which this contention is based is as follows. 

The Principal Standard of Moral Judgment 

There are innumerable actions, performed by us every day 
of our lives, which have no appreciable effect upon the welfare 
of anyone, self or others, such as walking on the left-hand side- 
walk of the street instead of the right-hand one, looking in at 
f hop windows in passing, whittling a stick in an idle hour, and 
thousands more. These, with rare exceptions which will be ex- 
plained later,* no one ever thinks of condemning as wrong or 
aj)proving as right. This is equally true of similar actions which 
are the object of a certain amount of social pressure because 
dictated by fashion or custom. Twenty-five years ago, when con- 
ventions in dress were such that the average man would as soon 
have thought of appearing on the street without his liat as with- 
out his shoes, a male pedestrian proceeding hatless down the main 
street of a certain city was captured by the police and sent to a 
nearby hospital for the insane, from which it was supposed he 
must have escaped. The point is that he was not sent to jail. 
The man w’ho in breaking a custom does no harm may be criti- 
cized as trying to attract attention, or as proclaiming himself 
by implication wiser or more imaginative than his neighbors; 
or he may be regarded as eccentric even to the point of insanity ; 
but as long as he is believed to injure no one by his eccentricities 
he will not be regarded as a wrong-doer. 

Actions, then, which are believed to harm no one are not re- 
garded as wrong; actions believed to benefit no one are not called 
right. On the other hand, those which are denominated wrong are 
supposed to have harmful effects, and those denominated right, 

*See below, Qiapter X. 



24 


ETHICS 


to have beneficial effects. A, for example, asks B a question. C, the 
judge, will commend the action if B tells the truth, and con- 
demn it if B lies. C is, of course, throughout perfectly aware that 
A wants to know that concerning which he has inquired — else 
why should he put the question — and that he will believe himself 
harmed, and presumably will in fact have been harmed, if he is 
not told the truth. Similarly when C condemns B for stealing 
from A he knows that A did not want to lose his property ; other- 
wise, of course, B could have gone to A and asked for it as a gift. 
This holds likewise for the condemnation of murder, breach of 
contract, and whatever else may be included by the lay con- 
science under the prohibition, 'Thou shalt not.” 

The above principle can be shown to hold even for cases which 
at first glance appear to contradict it. Nothing seems farther from 
the calculations of utility than our applause of courage. But 
with a few exceptions which will be discussed in their place,® we 
do not demand the risking of life or limb or other valued pos- 
sessions when it promises no gain in good attained or evil re- 
pelled. When after the close of the Spanish- American War it 
was proposed to keep the American troops in Cuba all summer. 
Colonel Roosevelt, protesting against this order, wrote: "If there 
were any object in keeping us here we would face yellow fever 
with as much indifference as we faced bullets.”* Few persons 
would think less of a man for making such a protest and for at- 
tempting by every legitimate means, in circumstances such as 
these, to get into the safety zone. 

When, as the result of an exceptional combination of circum- 
stances, modes of action commonly injurious, whether to the 
individuals primarily affected or to society as a whole, become 
either innocuous or positively beneficial the judgment commonly 
changes, and what was hitherto called wrong is now looked upon 
as innocent, or sometimes positively praiseworthy. The Santa 
Claus lie is commonly told to children without a qualm of con- 
science. "It gives the children pleasure and never does them any 
harm,” is the justification urged if the practice is challenged. 
The "polite lie,” told to spare another person’s feelings, is as 

* Chapter X, page 158. 

* James Morgan, Theodore Roosevelt, the Boy and the Man, p. 146. 



EVERYDAY STANDARDS OF RIGHT 25 

widespread and as little an object of disapprobation among the 
great majority of people. Lies of playful teasing such as those 
told by Mark Twain to his companion Harris in The Tramp 
Abroad are described to excite merriment in the reader. But 
no author tries to play the humorist by narrating how a trusted 
employee, immediately upon the death of his employer, tries to 
swindle the widow out of the business. In certain cases a lie is 
positively approved by a large portion of the community. If the 
reader will put to a number of his acquaintances Desdemona's 
dying lie, and the action of the friends at the close of Kipling^s 
‘Thrown Away” (in Plain Tales from the Hills) ^ he will be able 
to verify this statement for himself. 

What is true of lying is true of theft. A well-known man of 
science tells a group of his fellow-workers how on leaving a vine- 
yard which did not belong to him but in which he had been help- 
ing himself to as many grapes as he had cared to eat, he is met 
by a second depredator who supposes him to be the owner and 
thereupon, in great confusion, offers him twenty-five cents for the 
grapes which he had been taking. This story is received with 
shouts of laughter. A favorite topic of conversation on steamers 
returning from Europe is accounts of the successful smuggling of 
dutiable articles on previous trips. These men think with a 
wealthy manufacturer who, in stating quite openly to a friend 
that he had cut his income tax in half by making false returns, 
added that since no one had been injured thereby his conscience 
was clear in the matter. When a man reduces a widow or orphan 
to beggary by fraud he does not tell his friends or acquaintances 
about it. But the State of Wisconsin and Uncle Sam are ^*so rich 
that a few dollars more or less will never be missed;” accord- 
ingly there is no reason for concealment. Indeed, “swiping,” espe- 
cially on the part of undergraduates, is done primarily that 
one may boast of it afterwards to his friends. Even in serious 
cases theft committed to save the hungry from starvation will 
be approved by nineteen persons out of twenty. 

It must be understood that I am here describing, not what 
F>eople do, but what they are willing to have others know they do, 
and what we may therefore assume they do without self-con- 
demnation. I am describing, in other words, not actions but moral 



26 


ETHICS 


judgments. Again I am not justifying these judgments — in fact 
some of them I am convinced can not be justified. I am describing 
them as they are to be found in the community about us. 

As our judgments change from approbation to condemnation 
and vice versa with changes in the nature of the consequences, 
so does the amount of our commendation or disapprobation tend 
to be proportionate to the amount of good or harm believed to 
have been done. Even those who thoroughly disapprove of smug- 
gling goods through the custom house are not likely to be sd 
indignant at it as they are at the action of the employee who 
robs the widow of his employer. The general principle comes 
out very clearly in our attitude towards murder. Death ordi- 
narily seems to us the greatest of all evils because it is irrep- 
arable. In accordance with this opinion, murder is regarded as 
the most wicked of all crimes. 

An Examination of Some Apparent Exceptions 

The preceding statements represent facts, but not all the facts. 
There are people who take a very different attitude towards 
obedience to general rules. There are a few parents who consider 
it wrong to tell children that Santa Claus brings their Christmas 
presents; there are a few people who do not believe in polite 
lies; there are those who would condemn the well-meant efforts 
of the Colonel in “Thrown Away” to spare the parents in Eng- 
land pain by writing them that their boy in distant India died of 
fever, when in reality he committed suicide because he believed 
(incorrectly) that he had disgraced himself. Similarly there are 
people — largely they will be the same persons — who condemn 
Jean Valjean's theft of bread from the bakeshop. These thorough- 
going upholders of the strict rule are apparently distinctly in the 
minority, but they certainly exist. How can their attitude be 
explained if the descriptions just given are accurate? 

For this phenomenon two different explanations may be offered. 
Between them I believe they cover all but a few sporadic cases 
which most readers would find at once tedious and unprofitable to 
consider.® For the sake of concreteness I shall discuss the subject 

‘Those interested in these details may consult the author’s Influence of 
Custom on the Moral Judgment, Ch. V. 



EVERYDAY STANDARDS OF RIGHT 27 

in terms of veracity, although anyone of a half-dozen other 
illustrations would have served just as well. 

In the first place, there is the consideration which everyone 
has had to face who has stepped across the boundary which sepa- 
rates truth from falsehood: Where is one to draw the line? For 
while much might be said in behalf of the first lie, presently a 
situation will arise where the case for lying is just a little less 
clear, and from this you may pass by a series of imperceptible 
gradations to what everyone would admit was an outrageous 
falsehood. There are people who feel that no one who begins 
to travel this road will ever be able to tell just where to stop, 
and that, therefore, the only safe course is never to start. 

In the second place, we are creatures of habit, and the world 
did not have to wait for the discovery of this fact till the arrival 
of the psychologist upon the scene. Practically everyone knows 
that a lie told with w^hatever good intentions, tends to establish 
a habit of deviation from truth. Our intellect may assure us 
without ceasing of the rectitude of our course. Nevertheless the 
habit goes on fastening itself upon us till the time comes when 
we discover, perhaps by some flash of moral lightning, that we 
have absolutely lost all sense of direction. This consideration is 
not identical wdth the preceding one. It would hold even if the 
line between the justifiable and unjustifiable lie could be drawn 
with perfect clearness, and means that the lie told whether with 
good intentions or with bad, tends to register itself in the nervous 
system and make truth-telling progressively more difficult. “It 
is easy to tell one lie, but difficult to tell only one.” 

To these considerations the more thoughtful will add the effects 
of example. Everyone knows that we go astray like lost sheep. 
One jumps through a gap in the hedge because the others have 
done so. The recognition of this peculiarity of human nature tends 
to make the reflective mind cautious about approving even what 
many men call harmless lies. He will consider that the lie itself 
may become known, while perhaps the excellent reason for telling 
it remains hidden from view, “Avoid the very appearance of evil” 
is a rule whose reasonableness is obvious to any conscientious 
man. 

What is common to all these considerations is the knowledge 



28 


ETHICS 


that lies tend to breed lies. But this is by no means the end. 
Everyone knows that we lose confidence in the veracity of one 
whom we find lying to us; and that this is true to a certain extent 
regardless of the motive of the lie. Thus the physician tells the 
family that the patient will recover, whereas, in reality, he ex- 
pects nothing of the kind. If the family discover that they have 
been deceived they can no longer believe this doctor’s statements 
about the condition of the sick who are under his charge; and 
moreover will be likely to argue that if one doctor lies about 
the condition of his patients all will lie. Thus in discrediting 
himself he is discrediting many others also. 

The above reasons for refusing to admit exceptions to the rule 
of veracity may operate not merely when present as clean-cut 
formulas but equally when they loom as vague impressions. In 
every field of human experience it happens that judgments are 
formed, the data for which are forgotten while the conclusion 
is preserved. You have come to dislike a man because you have 
perhaps on two or three occasions seen him discourteous or 
grossly selfish. Later the incidents are forgotten but the impres- 
sion remains that he is essentially a boor. We frequently find 
ourselves distrusting a man of a certain appearance as probably 
lazy, or sensual, or irresponsible, or selfish, or ^'crooked,” without 
being able to tell explicitly what are the signs of the characteristic 
we attribute to him, and how many of them he possesses. In the 
same way an experienced business man comes to “feel” that an 
investment is unsafe, and a salesman, that such and such a person 
will not buy his goods. Indeed most of those beliefs which rest 
upon a large body of data collected at different times and in 
different places are of this nature. 

All this applies, of course, to moral principles. Everyone has 
seen one lie breed another. Everyone has seen confidence shat- 
tered and replaced by distrust. There is no one w^ho has not had 
occasion to discover through his own experience the seriousness 
of these consequences. Some generalize consciously; most do not. 
But all may come to “feel” a hesitancy about lying which is just 
as completely the product of observation of cause and effect as 
is the experienced business man’s unwillingness to risk his money 
in certain kinds of investments. 



EVERYDAY STANDARDS OF RIGHT 29 

We see thus how a belief in the harmfulness of breaking general 
rules may arise. We see also that the process to which it is due, 
whether it goes on above or below the surface of consciousness, 
may be a perfectly legitimate one. Sometimes, however, while the 
conclusion may be sound, the process by which it is reached may 
be thoroughly fallacious. In these instances, the judge demands 
an unqualified obedience because he can not conceive it possible 
to preserve the rule if you permit a single exception. He under- 
stands the value of the rule perfectly. But he is unable to dis- 
tinguish between its different applications to varying conditions 
and to see that “circumstances alter cases.” An example is an 
exceptionally dull-witted and illiterate youth, who, in a study 
carried on by means of casuistry questions, was asked whether 
Jean Valjean was justified in stealing bread to save from starva- 
tion his widowed sister and her children. He wrote: “No. If it 
was not wTong for him to steal then it would not be wrong for 
anybody, and in this way would all go stealing when in need.” 
When later he was asked: “Suppose all did go stealing when in 
need. What of it?” he looked at his questioner in blank surprise 
at such a display of ignorance and replied at once: “Why, if 
everybody stole, everything w’ould go to smash.” ® 

There are, accordingly, two classes of persons who are re- 
luctant to approve the making of exceptions to general rules. One 
of these is composed of the more intelligent and thoughtful. They 
have become impressed by the seriousness of the consequences 
which may follow such an infraction. The other consists largely 
of those who are less acute mentally. For them but two alterna- 
tives are conceivable: obedience or anarchy. Those who are fond 
of observing human nature will recall charming examples of just 
this kind of logic in the mental processes of eight-year-old 
children. 

• For some parallel instances from the field of worldly wisdom, see Coe, 
Psychology of the Religious Experiences, p. 68; also ibid., pp. 74, 77, 81. 
Beautiful illustrations of this kind of abstract thinking in the moral judg- 
ments of children will be found in David Snedden’s article “Children's 
Attitude toward Punishment for Weak Time Sense,” in Earl Barnes* 
Studies in Education, Vol. I, p. 344. See also below, Chapter XV, page 303L 



30 


ETHICS 


OuB Conclusion and Its Meaning 

The conclusion which these facts seem to warrant is that when 
an action is pronounced wrong this is ordinarily because it is 
believed to do harm to some or all of those affected by it; when 
it is pronounced right, this is because its effects are regarded 
as beneficial. This statement is subject to an important exception 
which will be considered immediately, and some apparent excep- 
tions which will be examined in Chapter X. Apart from this, 
it gives, I believe, a true picture of the workings of the conscience 
of civilized man. If so, those moralists who believe the moral 
consciousness to be a piece of putty which can be moulded by 
outside pressure into any form, however fantastic, very seri- 
ously underestimate the amount of original judgments in the 
community about us. 

All this does not mean that the ordinary man, in forming his 
moral judgments, is everywhere saying to himself in so many 
words: ‘‘All actions which harm another are wrong; this harms 
another; therefore it is wrong.” Most laymen have presumably 
never thought of any such generalization as the first of these 
premises. This, as far as it is true, is rather the discovery of the 
moralist. What is meant is that in so far as a man sees harm 
done by an action in a particular case he tends to call that action 
wrong; in so far as he sees positive good resulting he tends to 
call the action right; when he sees no appreciable connection with 
good or harm he regards it as morally indifferent or innocent. 
Where moral rules arise they are generalizations of judgments 
passed upon particular situations. This is true for the life of 
the race as a whole. It would also be true for the individual if 
it were not for the efforts of parents, teachers, and society at 
large, who put the finished generalizations into his hands; thereby 
of course facilitating the process and making it in many cases 
far more complete and definite than it would otherwise have 
become. 

“Eye for Eye; Tooth for Tooth” 

If the readers of this book were asked whether they believe 
in revenge, most of them would probably reply that they do not. 



EVERYDAY STANDARDS OF RIGHT 


31 


But there is a great difference between what we believe, and 
what we believe we believe; and it is probable that at least two 
out of every three adult Americans, if brought face to face with 
some monstrous exhibition of baseness or cruelty, would demand 
that vengeance be visited upon the offender as a requirement of 
justice. This demand for vengeance is not necessarily identical 
with the approval of punishment. Punishment may be approved 
for its beneficent consequences. It may awaken in the evil-doer 
a sense of the enormity of his deed, and thus make him a better 
man; or if it does not accomplish so much, it may at least frighten 
him into a different course of life. In any event it will tend to 
deter others from committing similar deeds. But the belief that 
the wicked ought to be punished may have a far different source 
from the aim to reform and the aim to frighten. From the depths 
of a man’s nature may arise the demand that he who has caused 
another to suffer be made to suffer in return, not as a means 
to some ulterior end but as an end in itself. This is the voice of 
retributive justice, the call for vengeance as a sacred duty. 

Primitive man believes that revenge may be inflicted by the 
victim or his family. Indeed, under ordinary circumstances, it 
must be one of these because there is no one else to serve as 
avenger. In civilized society, also, there are many who share this 
belief, particularly where other agencies can not be invoked. On 
the other hand there are those among ourselves who while ap- 
proving retributive punishment as such believe that it should 
be exercised solely by the state. Their reason is that it alone is 
likely to be able and willing to inform itself as to the facts, and 
impartial in weighing guilt and assigning the penalty. Some, 
again, would confine the administration of retributive punishment 
to the one omniscient and perfectly impartial judge, God. 

This demand that suffering be requited with suffering may 
be directed against self as well as others. In this case the person 
feels he ought to injure himself, or, at least, put himself in a 
position w’here some other person or else the state will injure him 
because of the wrong which is the work of his hands. This feeling 
may lead him to thrust away from himself proffered happiness 
on the ground that he is unworthy of it, as does Richard Feverel 



32 


ETHICS 


after the return of hie love for his wife, in Meredith’s novel.^ It 
has been known to lead unsuspected criminals to surrender them- 
selves to the authorities for punishment. It appears in childhood 
equally with adult life. Witness the following incident, told by 
Sully in bis Studies of Childhood (page 289) . “A girl of nine had 
been naughty and was very sorry for her misbehavior. Shortly 
after she came to her lesson limping and remarked that she felt 
very uncomfortable. Being asked by her governess what was 
the matter with her she said: Tt was very naughty of me to 
disobey you, so I put my right shoe on my left foot, and my left 
shoe on my right foot.’ ” Such occurrences are not at all uncom- 
mon in childhood, as appears from Tadaichi Ueda’s study, “The 
Psychology of Justice,” in Volume 19 of the Pedagogical Sem> 
nary. 

We must distinguish between retribution as a right and a duty. 
The former means that the wronged is at liberty to injure the 
wrong-doer if he so wishes, but is under no moral compulsion 
to do it. The latter means that it is the duty of someone or some 
group to punish, whether there is any desire on the part of any- 
one to do it or not. In all stages of human development revenge 
is widely regarded as not merely a right, but under certain cir- 
cumstances a duty; often, indeed, one of the most imperative of 
duties. 

In our own society there exist radical differences of opinion 
with regard to almost every aspect of revenge. Some approve it 
— at least in its application to other persons than self — on the 
slightest provocation; others only in the case of very grave 
wrongs; while of course all the intermediate positions are fully 
represented. But it must be particularly noted that there are 
some persons who repudiate retribution in every one of its forms, 
regarding it always, everywhere, and under every provocation 
as wrong. The proportion of such people in contemporary Ameri- 
can society, however, is apparently not very large. Some years 
ago the author, in collaboration with his colleague, Professor 
Otto, made a careful investigation of this subject. The material 

’So Emma, in Jane Austen^s novel of the same name, Ch. XLVIII; 
c/. Shakespeare, Cymheline, Act V, Scene IV, 11. 14, 15. 



EVERYDAY STANDARDS OF RIGHT 


33 


was supplied by two groups of students. One was composed of 
100 members of the first-year class in the Short Course in Agri- 
culture in the University of Wisconsin, practically none of whom 
had had any formal education beyond the grades. The second 
was made up of fifty men and fifty women from the three upper 
classes of the College of Letters and Science in the same institu- 
tion; all of them, of course, entirely innocent of any acquaintance 
with theories of ethics. The proportion (in percentages) of each 
group who definitely expressed their approbation of revenge in 
some one of a number of concrete situations was as follows: In 
the College of Letters and Science, men, 64, women, 80; in the 
College of Agriculture, 90. But apart from its conscious accept- 
ance the law of retaliation was found to be an unrecognized but 
real factor in the judgments of a number of others. The change 
in the figures for the College of Letters and Science was of no 
special significance. The percentage for men rose to 70 and that 
for women to 82. But in the Agricultural Course it left but two 
unaffected, bringing the total from 90 to 98 per cent. It was 
shown, I believe, that these proportions are typical for the class 
of persons investigated.® 

Eudemonic and Dysdemonic Judgments 

It will be convenient to have separate names for the two 
standards of judgment described in this Chapter. I shall call the 
first eudemonic!^ It approves conduct for its good effects and 
disapproves it for its harmful effects. For the second standard I 
shall use the term dysdemonic. It reverses the relationship of good 
and harm found in the first, in that it approves of doing harm 
and disapproves of doing good to one who has wronged another, 
not as a means to some farther end, such as the protection of 
society or even the satisfaction it may afford to the victim of the 
wrong, but as an end in itself. The judgments which conform to 

* The International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 20, 1910, pp. 341, 438. Two 
of the questions used in this investigation, and a brief account of the 
method employed will be found below, Chapter XII, page 206 ff. 

*From the Greek word eudaimonia, meaning welfare. Dysdaimonia, 
similarly meant misfortime or harm. Daimon meant a tutelary deity; 
eu and dys, good and bad, respectively. 



34 


ETHICS 


these two standards may also be called more simply judgments 
of benevolence and malevolence respectively. The significance of 
the latter terminology will be clear after reading Chapter V. 

The Influence op Religious Belief Upon Moral Judgments 

You may find it interesting to ask a number of persons whether 
a physician is justified in administering an overdose of morphine 
to a patient who is suffering unimaginable torture in the last 
stages of cancer. In the course of your inquiry you will probably 
receive three types of answers, the conformity of two of which 
to the eudemonic standard will be manifest at a glance. Some 
will reply that the physician is justified in hastening the death 
of the patient because he would relieve him and his family of 
unnecessary suffering and would not harm anyone thereby. Oth- 
ers will contend that a physician who starts on this road will 
never know where to stop, and that a society which sanctioned 
such practices would be opening the door to the gravest abuses. 
But a certain proportion will reply in substantial agreement with 
the following statement, supplied by a Wisconsin undergraduate: 
“I do not think it would be right under any circumstances to 
take a personas life before the appointed time. If a Supreme 
Power exists, and it places those sufferings on a person, it must 
be for the best, and, therefore, the person is not justified in 
taking his life away.” 

This answer looks, at first sight, like the introduction of an 
entirely different standard from any yet described. It undoubt- 
edly represents a new point of view, but certainly not a new 
standard. For the writer of this answer believed that all suffer- 
ing of whatever kind is due to the will of a loving God who lays 
affliction upon a man not in indifference, least of all out of a 
malevolent desire to see him suffer, but in the sufferer^s own 
interest, particularly as a preparation for citizenship in a higher 
world. It is evident that, accepting this view of the facts as he 
did, the respondent could only look upon the well-meant efforts 
of the physician to ease the pain as any impartial person would 
regard the attempts of a weak mother to save her son from the 
discipline requisite for his future success. In other words, the 
ultimate standard here in use is precisely that of the eudemonic 



EVERYDAY STANDARDS OF RIGHT 36 

judgment, applied, in this instance, to the interests of a life 
beyond the grave. 

Sometimes the theological factor enters in another fashion. It 
may be enough for one who really loves God and believes that 
God desires a certain mode of action on his part to regard this 
action as a duty. Here again a parallel case will show that no 
new standard enters. A boy at college (if there be such a boy) 
refrains from smoking in deference to the wishes of his mother. 
He may not know precisely why she desires it; if he does, he may 
not sympathize with her point of view. But respect, love, and 
gratitude make him feel an obligation to do what will please 
her, to leave undone what would cause her pain. Obviously the 
same attitude may be taken towards the will of God, conceived 
of as the Heavenly Father. Again it is a case of the eudemonic 
judgment. 

There is still a third way in which religious belief may affect 
a moral judgment. If I am considering such a question as the 
justifiability of revenge, I may cither rely on my immediate 
feelings, or reason it out as best I can, or I may consult an 
expert precisely as I might in any other field besides morals. 
If I believe the Bible to be a revelation of God to man, I may 
consult it and accept its dictum. This procedure, again, involves 
the introduction of no new standard. It involves nothing else than 
the adoption of an imitative judgment, on the word of an 
authority not, like the best of my fellow-men, finitely wiser, but 
infinitely wiser than I. 

Theological considerations may enter into the fabric of our 
moral judgments in one or two other ways besides those here 
described. But the above enumeration includes all the leading 
cases. The introduction of the theological point of view brings 
into the field factors which may be of great importance in deter- 
mining the final attitude of the judge, but it does not involve 
the use of any new standard of judgment. 

Utilitarian Theories op Ethics 

A very influential school of moralists hold that all moral judg- 
ments are of the eudemonic type. This view is commonly called 
Utilitarianism. 



36 


ETHICS 


There are two varieties of Utilitarianism. One, called Egoistic 
Utilitarianism, holds that the only motive for moral action is 
the prospect of good for oneself. This same motive force is sup- 
posed to be capable of bringing into existence judgments of 
praise and blame. The other form is called Universalistic Utili- 
tarianism. It recognizes the existence of other springs of action 
in human nature besides egoism, and finds in these the source of 
the moral judgment. 

The attitude of Utilitarians towards the dysdemonic judg- 
ment is, for the most part, so equivocal that it can not be easily 
stated in a few words. The great majority ignore it — the simplest 
known method of treating awkward facts that refuse to fit them- 
selves into your system of thought. As for the minority, their 
methods of dealing with or evading the issue are so varied and 
sometimes so elusive that it will be impossible as it would be 
unprofitable for us to examine them. 

If we hold rigidly to the traditional definitions the account of 
the moral judgment presented in this Chapter can not be called 
Utilitarian, because it recognizes the existence of a type of 
judgment unknown to orthodox Utilitarianism, namely the dys- 
demonic. But if we use the term in a somewhat larger sense we 
shall obtain a different result. For the essential feature of Utili- 
tarianism, after all, is the proposition that conduct is pronounced 
right or wrong solely in virtue of its effects upon human welfare. 
That this is the case is precisely the outcome of the preceding 
analysis. The conclusion drawn from our examination of the lay 
conscience is that there exist two, and at bottom only two funda- 
mental standards of moral judgments; one used under ordinary 
circumstances, the other applied by some judges to some wrong- 
doers. According to the former standard an action is wrong if 
its consequences are harmful; according to the latter it is right 
for precisely this reason. Thus the contents, so to speak, of the 
two standards are identical; the relation to good and harm 
determines the judgment in each case. The difference is that 
the relationship which one standard calls right, the other calls 
wrong, and vice versa. In this broader and more fundamental 
sense of the term, then, the position of this Chapter is Utilitarian. 
Later chapters will defend the Universalistic form. 



Chapter III 

THE CONFLICT OF INTERESTS 

The Eudemonic Judgment and the Conflict op Interests 

The eudemonic judgment pronounces an action right, as wc 
have seen, in so far as it promises to promote the interests of some 
or all of those whom it affects. But the interests of human beings 
may conflict at an indefinite number of points. Unless I have an 
unlimited amount of money, contributing to some causes means 
withholding from others. Precisely the same thing is true of 
time and energy. If on failing in business I divide my assets 
equally among my creditors, some will receive less than if I had 
paid a few favored ones in full. And if I pay up every cent when 
I might evade complete payment, my family may have to suffer. 
If the physician refuses to give an overdose of morphine to a 
cancer patient he is sacrificing the individual to the good of the 
community. While if he yields to the entreaties of the sufferer 
he may be injuring the community for the sake of the individual. 
A lie, a breach of contract, an act of dishonesty, may profit the 
liar or the thief, at least in certain respects, while it injures both 
the immediate victim and the community. 

Now the moralist can not insist with too much earnestness 
that much of this conflict of interests is mere appearance, due to 
the short-sightedness of human beings and their inability to see 
below the surface of things. In the great majority of cases it is 
unquestionably to my advantage in the long run to tell the truth, 
and to respect in every way the property rights of others, because 
(for one thing) the confidence of my fellows is more valuable 
than any immediate gain. Nine-tenths of the lying that goes on 
in the world is demonstrably mere weakness or folly. Again ex- 
perience has shown that the employer’s profits are greatest when 
he so treats his employees that they are contented and loyal. 
To take the extreme case — slavery in the United States was at 
bottom a huge failure from an economic point of view because it 

37 



38 


ETHICS 


offered no adequate incentive for hard and intelligent labor. On 
the other hand, if wages were forced, say by legislative action, 
beyond the point where the return on the investment fell below 
the safety line, the enterprise might fail in time of stress for 
want of a sufficient surplus. This might easily be a misfortune for 
the employees as well as the employers. 

Where the divergence of interests has at first glance seemed 
hopeless, an ingenious mind and a determined will have again 
and again found an unexpected way, not of compromise, but of 
genuine reconciliation. And it is obviously our duty to discover 
such ways, wherever possible. But with all due recognition of 
these facts, it would be mere sentimentalism or prejudice to assert 
that harmony is the universal rule. Of two suitors one must 
be rejected. And it would be difficult to prove to the dismissed 
lover that he will speedily find a substitute, who, after all, will 
do ‘^just as well.^’ In any event people have believed and do 
believe that interests conflict. And what concerns us in this 
descriptive part of our work, is the principles which men actually 
follow in determining which of two interests or sets of interests 
that are regarded as irreconcilable, has the prior claim to satis- 
faction. The problem, as it presents itself to the agent, may be 
the claims of self-interest as opposed to the interests of another 
or others; or the claims upon him of two or more persons or 
groups of persons. In either case he may be compelled to choose 
between the good of one person and the good of another, or the 
harm of one and the harm of another, or still again between the 
good of one and the harm of another. 

These conflicts of interests supply the subject matter of the 
present Chapter. It attempts to set forth certain principles upon 
which men proceed when, in applying the eudemonic standard, 
they find themselves compelled to decide which of two conflicting 
interests or sets of interests has “the right of way.” Those here 
described are four in number. 

The Primacy op the Greater Good 

In the first place, it may be held that one ought to choose the 
greater good, or where harm or loss is inevitable, the less harm. 
Or where goods are compared on a scale of quality, it may be 



39 


THE CONFLICT OF INTERESTS 

held that the higher good should be chosen in preference to the 
lower. What is common to these two forms of judgment is the 
fact that the relative claims of the competing goods are deter- 
mined by the place of each on a scale of values, whether of 
quantity or quality. That is to say, the decisive factor is found 
in the nature of the interests themselves, apart from the persons 
whose interests they may happen to be. 

As illustrations, if illustrations are necessary, I shall use certain 
answers to casuistry questions supplied by University of Wis- 
consin undergraduates during the course of an investigation made 
by the author, the results of which appeared in the monograph 
already referred to. The Influence of Custom on the Moral Judg- 
ment, published by the University of Wisconsin in 1908. 

One of these questions was a variant upon the theme struck 
out by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables. 

May a poor man, without money, out of work, and unable at the time 
to find emplo^Tnent, take without the knowledge of the owner a loaf 
of bread from a bakeshop in order to save from starvation the young 
children of a neighbor? Their mother, a widow, is sick in bed and 
unable for the time to earn money for their support. It is impossible 
to get the bread in any other way. 

The following are two typical answers: 

[1] think that the poor man was justified in taking the bread 
under these circumstances. He would be doing an infinitely large amount 
of good compared with the trivial harm done, and he would be doing 
the good by the only possible method open to him.” 

[2] ‘The man should not steal the bread. Respect for the property 
of others, under all circumstances, lies at the basis of our civilization. 
To indulge, in any degree, in wTong makes greater wrong easier and 
ultimate anarchy possible.” 

In [1] the writer is comparing the value of the bread to the 
baker with its value to the starving family. In [2] there is also 
an estimate of the relative importance of consequences. What 
chiefly impresses the writer is the shock to the system of mutual 
confidence produced by any theft, whatever the circumstances. 
Since the form of the question necessarily thrusts before his 
mind the good which the bread will do, it seems clear that here 
also, there is a virtual balancing of consequences. The negative 
answers, which seldom amount to more than five per cent of 



40 ETHICS 

the whole number, almost always take some such form as the 
above. 

In the first answer to the next question the comparison of 
values is carried out still more elaborately than in the corre- 
sponding answer above. In the second there is the same implied 
comparison as in [2] of the first problem. 

A university student hires a room for a year. After four weeks, when 
there is no longer any probability of its being taken by anyone else, 
he leaves and goes to another room. Is this justifiable under any of 
the following conditions? (1) He is lonely and wishes to go to a house 
several blocks away where some of his friends are lodging. (2) He is 
working his way through the University and an opportunity offers 
itself to get room rent in return for an exceptionally small amount 
of service. He could earn enough to put himself through in other ways 
but the change will save him two hours a day, which will enable him 
to do very much better university work. Does the answer in (1) or 
(2) differ if we suppose that: (a) his present room belongs to a man 
sufficiently well situated so that he and his family will not actually 
suffer at the loss of the rent; or, (b) that it belongs to a widow with a 
young child and that she has no other means of support than the in- 
come from her rooms, representing, let us say, a net cash income of 
$1000 a year, which in case (1) will be reduced by $150 and in (2) 
by $75 if the lodger leaves. 

[1] ^'Under condition (1) he would not be justified because he ought 
to have foreseen what the results would be, and then the results are 
of no great importance. Under conditions (2a) he might leave the 
place because the benefit of the student would be greater than the 
loss to the landlord. Case (2b) is different. There the widow is actually 
depending upon the room rent for support, while a change of rooms 
will only make things more convenient for the student. Therefore, it 
would be wrong for the student to leave the widow in the lurch.” 

[2] ‘‘Under none of the conditions described has the student a right 
to give up his room. The bottom would drop out of everything if you 
commenced to permit any contracts to be broken." 

The essential feature of this principle then, is that it rates 
competing claims in accordance with the value of the experience 
to the parties concerned (which may include, of course, society 
as a whole), or according to the amount of the resultant good or 
harm. In order to identify the principle I shall give it a name 
and call it the principle of the primacy of the greater good. 

The Primacy of the More Striking Good 

A good or evil which is completely and vividly realized, which 
impresses itself powerfully upon the imagination, is apt to throw 



THE CONFLICT OF INTERESTS 41 

its rivals into the shade, and appeal to us more effectively than 
any other element in the situation, however important it may 
be in itself. Lecky writes : 

‘‘The most frightful catastrophe in South America, an earthquake, 
a shipwreck, or a battle, will elicit less compassion than the death of 
a single individual who has been brought prominently before our 
eyes. The irritation displayed by the captive of St. Helena in his 
bickerings with his gaoler affects most men more than the thought 
of the nameless thousands whom his insatiable egoism had hurried 
to the grave. Such is the frailty of our nature that we are more 
moved by the tears of some captive princess, by some trifling bio- 
graphical incident that has floated down the stream of history, than 
by the sorrows of all the countless multitudes who perished beneath 
the sword of a Tamerlane or a Zenghis Khan.^' 

Parallel with this characteristic of the human mind we find 
that the more vividly a good is realized the higher do we rate its 
claims. This fact gives rise to an attitude or point of view 
which leads to the acceptance of what may be called the primacy 
of the more striking good. 

The most important example of this attitude is the judgment 
wherein, frequently with perfect good faith, we justify ourselves 
for seeking our own good at the expense of another person, al- 
though what is lost by the latter in the transaction is recognized 
as being more valuable to him than what we thereby gain is to 
us. An illustration is supplied by certain of the answers to the 
question (page 40, above) whether the student was justified in 
breaking his contract with his landlady. A few respondents re- 
plied that he was justified in every instance, some asserting, in 
so many words, that he owed his first duty to himself. In main- 
taining this position they recognized clearly that under one or 
two of the conditions named the preponderance of good unmis- 
takably lay on the other side. 

In Chapter V we shall learn that the fundamental reason for 
our partiality to self is the fact that its interests usually appeal 
to the imagination more vividly and therefore more effectively 
than those of others. Hence the favoritism in behalf of self often 
found in the moral judgment when the demands of self-interest 

* Lecky, History of European Morals, 3rd Edition, Vol. I, p. 133. 



42 


ETHICS 


conflict with the good of our neighbor is an illustration of the 
approbation of the choice of the more striking good. 

Another example of this power of the concrete and vivid to 
influence the judgment to favor its claims is the attitude taken 
by many persons when the good of the community as a whole 
clashes with that of an individual. This attitude is exhibited in 
the majority of the answers to the following question received 
from fifty men and fifty women who were students in the College 
of Letters and Science and 100 members of the Short Course in 
Agriculture of the University of Wisconsin. 

Some two centuries ago an Indian chief, accompanied by a formidable 
band of warriors, suddenly appeared before the stockade of a remote 
French settlement in North America and demanded the surrender of 
one of its citizens. This man, the chief asserted, had murdered a mem- 
ber of his tribe, and he was accordingly determined to punish him. 
The governor protested, with truth, that his fellow-countryman was 
entirely innocent. But the Indian believed this statement to be a lie 
and threatened to attack the town and kill every soul in it if his 
demand was not met. The chances were fair that the settlement could 
hold out till help came, but of course an attack would make a large 
loss of life inevitable. The alleged murderer did not volunteer to sur- 
render himself. 

The decision lay entirely with the governor of the settlement as the 
representative of the king. He was a soldier of the highest type; one 
who, like the normal captain of a sinking ship, would not hesitate for 
a moment to face death for himself at the call of what he looked upon 
as duty. He must therefore be thought of as ignoring completely his 
own personal interests and deciding solely in accordance with what he 
regarded as right. There seemed to be no reason for supposing that the 
surrender demanded would create a dangerous precedent. The chief 
could be trusted to keep his word, whether to attack or to withdraw. 
Under these circumstances what ought the decision of the governor 
to have been? 


To this question 48 per cent of the women students in Letters 
and Science, 58 per cent of the men, and 70 per cent of the 
Agricultural students answered that the governor ought not to 
surrender the man. This means that the majority of those ques- 
tioned believed that in this instance the good of the many ought 
to be sacrificed to the good of one. 

It is this attitude which leads a not inconsiderable number of 
persons to reject the view that punishment may properly be 



43 


THE CONFLICT OF INTERESTS 

inflicted for the sole end of deterring others from committing 
crime. Punishment, as we saw in Chapter II, page 31, may be 
visited upon the evil doer in a spirit of retaliation. On the other 
hand, it may be imposed because the threat of a penalty is cal- 
culated to prevent men from committing crime through fear of 
unpleasant consequences to self. If the threat is to be effective 
those who disregard it must be compelled to pay the penalty. 
Thus one murderer is executed or sent to the penitentiary for 
life in order than many other persons may be saved from be- 
coming the victim of a murderer’s hand. The view that a crim- 
inal may properly be made to suffer in order to deter others from 
committing crime through fear of like penalty is called the 
deterrent theory of punishment. It rests upon the principle that 
one man may rightly be compelled to suffer when, beyond all 
reasonable doubt, the community will thereby be saved from more 
serious evils. 

Many of those who reject this principle look on with complete 
approbation when an individual voluntarily chooses to make a 
tremendous sacrifice for the realization of some important end. 
They reverse their position only when the sacrifice is a product 
of compulsion, as in the case of punishment.^ To be sure when a 
man like Czolgosz murders the president of the United States in 
the full and sincere conviction that he is thereby serving his 
country, the public with one accord demands the imposition of 
the extreme penalty. But this attitude is probably due ultimately 
to resentment which — fortunately in this instance — is aroused by 
results as well as intentions (see below Chapter V, page 89). 
In war, to be sure — such are the inconsistencies of which tlic 
human mind is capable — no one thinks of criticizing an order 
which sends a whole regiment to certain death that the rest of 
the army — and the nation — may be saved from destruction. But 
in the piping times of peace about two persons out of three will, 

*The majority of such persons believe it praiseworthy for the man whose 
life is demanded by the Indian chief to surrender himself in order to save 
his fellow-citizens. That is to say, they regard the man who is willing 
to sacrifice himself for the sake of the many as morally more excellent 
than he who refuses to do so. On the other hand many of these same 
persons hold that the morally excellent have a better claim to exemption 
from evil than have the less excellent. Thus, in this case, it is the death 
of the more excellent which is approved. 



44 ETHICS 

at some point, refuse to tolerate the application of the same 
principle. 


The Primacy of the Good of the Nearer 

In the third place it may be thought that where a member of 
the agent^s family is one of the parties concerned, the agent ought 
to prefer the interests of this person to the interests of anyone 
else, even though the result is a net loss to all affected. The same 
attitude may be taken when the alternatives are the good of a 
friend and that of an acquaintance, a neighbor and a stranger, a 
fellow-countryman and a foreigner, a member of one’s own race 
and a member of another race. In order to have a convenient 
term we may say the representatives of this point of view ap- 
prove the choice of the good of the nearer. “Nearer” here means 
nearer to the agent in the sense that he feels bound to the indi- 
vidual in question by ties of affection, friendship, blood, personal 
gratitude, or congeniality of tastes and interests. 

The last answer to the following question will illustrate what is 
meant. 

A man returning from his day’s work was crossing a railroad track 
near his home when he discovered a switch left open by a careless 
switchman. This he saw at once would mean death or injury to the 
several hundred people on a rapidly approaching train. At the same 
moment he saw his own child playing upon the track in front of the 
engine. He had time only to turn the switch and save the train or else 
to save the child. Which was it his duty to do? 

[1] ‘'His duty was to turn the switch, for every man is placed on 
this earth to further the interests of society. The train contained 
several hundred people among whom may have been surgeons, states- 
men, and talented men, who were far more useful for the advancement 
of the human race than was this one child.” 

[2] “It was his duty to turn the switch and save the train. In this 
case he alone would be bereaved while otherwise hundreds of persons 
would feel a sorrow comparable with his own.” 

[3] “It was the man’s duty to save his child. Our first obligations are 
to those of our own kind. A man sacrificing his own child to save an- 
other person’s life would not be human.” 

The first two respondents approve the choice of the greater 
good, or rather the less harm. But their answers look at the 
situation from slightly different points of view. The writer of [1] 
thinks throughout in terms of the interests of society as a 



45 


THE CONFLICT OF INTERESTS 

whole. The writer of [2] , on the other hand, thinks only of the 
interests immediately concerned, in particular the sorrow of 
those who would be bereaved through the death of their loved 
ones. He confines his attention to the immediate dramatis per- 
soruB of the tragedy. These differences in attitude and point of 
view may easily be found in the community about us. No one of 
course looks at every question either from the one point of view 
alone or the other. But many persons^ minds move predomi- 
nantly in the one direction or the other. Indeed, broadly speak- 
ing, these differences are found to be characteristic not merely of 
individuals but also of whole peoples. An American, for exam- 
ple, is more apt to take the latter point of view, a German, the 
former. 

In each case, however, the choice approved is that of the less 
harm of those whose interests catch and hold the attention. The 
third answer, on the other hand, represents the use of an entirely 
different principle. It is true that conceivably this answer might 
be a form of the first. A man might reason thus: The welfare 
of society as a whole, the greater good, in short, will be most 
effectively furthered by everyone looking after his own family 
first; as it is said that the streets of Jerusalem were kept clean 
by everyone sweeping in front of his own door. An occasional 
individual does take this point of view. But a carefully conducted 
inquiry by means of personal interviews has shown that this 
hypothesis does not explain the majority of the answers of this 
sort. In fact the writer of [3], and many others like him, never 
thought of any such relationship. It appeared to them directly 
self-evident that a member of one^s family has a greater claim 
upon him than any number of outsiders; and the consideration 
of what course of action would prevent the greater harm seemed 
to them, in this situation, entirely irrelevant. 

The Primacy of the Good of the More Excellent 

The fourth and last form of the eudemonic judgment which I 
shall describe in this Chapter may be stated thus: The good of 
those who are worthy of admiration ought to be preferred to the 
good of those who are less worthy. When the excellence in ques- 
tion is moral, we say that the treatment which a man receives 



46 


ETHICS 


ought to be proportionate to his merit or desert. Thus when, in 
the study already referred to, the question was asked whether 
John Howard was justified in prosecuting his work of prison 
reform at the cost of the moral ruin of his son, one man answered 
with an emphatic ^^No,” qualified by this proviso: ^Tf the prison- 
ers had been good men it would have been different.” 

The situation faced by the governor of the beleaguered settle- 
ment affords another illustration of the same principle. The 
problem of page 42 of this Chapter may be supplemented by 
the following question: Suppose the man demanded by the chief 
had been a man of very high character, or one of ordinary, com- 
monplace character, that is to say, neither very good nor very 
bad, or finally a thoroughly selfish, unprincipled man, would any 
of these conditions make any difference in your answer? In other 
words, ought the decision to depend upon the kind of a person he 
was? In this formulation from fifteen to twenty per cent of those 
who had at first thought he ought not to be given up changed 
their position and said that if he was a bad man it would be right 
to surrender liim. This point of view is by no means due to 
excessive sophistication. Many young children think it right to 
tell lies to a teacher whom they do not like because “she doesn^t 
deserve to know the truth.” 

The belief that A’s duties towards B depend upon B’s excel- 
lence is by no means confined to moral excellence. Many persons 
take the same attitude toward any quality which really arouses 
their admiration. Thus B. L. Taylor once wrote in the Chicago 
Tribune: “Only the other day a distinguished pianist declared 
that an artist has the right to cancel [his engagement] at the last 
moment and let the local manager foot the bills.” The position 
taken by the musician apparently was that the local manager was 
a mere business man, presumably a lover of base pelf rather than 
of divine art, and that when his interests came into conflict with 
those of a higlier being like an artist they had no standing. On 
the Continent of Europe would be found, I believe, a considerable 
number of persons, not themselves professional musicians, who 
would heartily agree with this proposition. 

It is by this principle that some business men justify practices 
which less ardent lovers of excellence might call dishonest. An 



THE CONFLICT OF INTERESTS 47 

illustration is afforded by the answer sometimes given to the 
following question; 

Some years ago Adolph Segal began the construction of a sugar 
refinery in the city of Philadelphia. During the process of construction, 
and while Mr. Segal was hard pressed for cash, he was offered a loan 
by one Gustav E. Kissel, a broker for an undisclosed principal. The 
offer was accepted, and in return for the loan a majority of the stock 
of the refinery company and all its bonds were deposited with Kissel. 
At the same time written authority was given him to exercise the voting 
1 ) 0 wer of the stock. The undisclosed principal was in fact the American 
Sugar Refining Company, and a few days after these arrangements were 
completed Kissel attended a meeting of the board of directors of the 
Pennsylvania Refining Company, causing four of the seven directors to 
resign and himself and three others subject to his control to be elected 
to fill the vacancies. The majority of the board then adopted and spread 
upon the minutes of the company the following declaration: “Resolved, 
that the Refinery do not run and that no proceedings looking to the 
beginning of operation be taken until further order of the board.”* Is 
this fair competition? 

About two per cent of the undergraduates entering the course 
in business ethics in the University of Wisconsin answer this 
question as follow^s: ^‘When a man is such a fool as Segal, anyone 
has the right to 'do’ him.” About twice this number believe he 
w^as not wronged because he ought to have been looking out for a 
trap ; w^hich comes to about the same thing. 

Some vigorous minds are willing to carry this principle through 
with relatively complete consistency to the bitter end. One of 
them once called upon Mr. Samuel Crothers, who has given us an 
entertaining account of the interview in an essay entitled, “As 
He Sees Himself,” to be found in The Pardoner's Wallet, The 
visitor w^as a forger who decided that his business was on the 
w^hole unprofitable and had therefore determined to abandon it. 
He called, of course, to borrow money. 

“At last I said, 'You have told me w'hat you did before you con- 
cluded to reform. I am curious to know’ how^, in those days, you looked 
at things. Was there anything which you wouldn’t have done, not 
because you w’ere afraid of the law, but because you felt it would be 
wTong?’ 

“ 'Yes,' he said, 'there is one thing I never would do, because it always 
seemed low down. I never would steal. 

•W. S. Stevens, Unfair Competition, page 215. 



48 


ETHICS 


'It was evident that further discussion would be unprofitable without 
definition of terms. I found that by stealing he meant petty larceny, 
which he abhorred. In our condemnation of the sneak thief and the 
pickpocket we were on common grotmd. His feeling of reprobation was, 
if anything, more intense than that which I felt at the time. He alluded 
to the umbrellas and other portable articles he had noticed in the hall- 
way. Anyone who would take advantage of an unsuspecting householder 
by purloining such things was a degenerate. He had no dealings with 
such moral imbeciles. 

"It seemed to me that I might press the analogy which instantly 
occurred to me between 'stealing' and forgery. 

" 'Do they not, ' I said, 'seem to you to amount to very much the 
same thing?' 

"I had struck a wrong note. Analogies are ticklish things to handle, 
for things which are alike in certain respects are apt to be quite different 
in other respects. His mind was intent on the differences. The sneak- 
thief, he told me, is a vulgar fellow of no education. The forger and 
the check-raiser are experts. They are playing a game. Their wits are 
pitted against the wits of the men w^ho are paid high salaries for de- 
tecting them. They belong to quite different spheres." 

The point of view of Mr. Crother’s caller is that the superior 
mind has superior rights as against its inferiors. ‘'All that cowards 
have is mine’^ [i. e., what I have a right to], was the motto of one 
of the famous English buccaneering families of the Middle Ages. 
Similarly our forger might have said, with a consciousness of 
complete rectitude, "All that blockheads have is mine.^^ 

Many of the blockheads themselves would unquestionably have 
agreed with him. The notion spread abroad by some writers that 
this point of view represents merely the "philosophy of the top 
dog" is the outcome of a very superficial acquaintance with hu- 
man nature. There may be some differences of opinion at times, 
as between the top dog and the under dog, as to who is really the 
possessor of genuine excellence. But the conviction that the more 
excellent actually have superior rights is very deeply rooted in 
the soul of man. It is losing much of its grip upon us, no doubt. 
But it has by no means disappeared, despite all our professions 
of belief in moral equality. A servant in a London family some 
years ago had a very serious and prolonged attack of illness. Her 
mistress, instead of shipping her off to a public hospital where she 
would have been thrust into a pauper’s ward, cared for the young 
woman with beautiful devotion. Immediately upon recovery the 
beneficiary of all this kindness "gave notice." She had never be- 



49 


THE CONFLICT OF INTERESTS 

fore worked for a woman who was not a lady; and her present 
mistress could not be a lady else she would never have taken care 
of a poor servant like herself. 

This entire standard of judgment was once given classical ex- 
pression in the words of a small boy at the Albany Truant 
School: “It’s mean to hit a dog, but I^d hit a cat every time.^* 
We may call this point of view the principle of the primacy of the 
good of the more excellent. 


A Warning Against Some Possible Misinterpretations 

The preceding description does not mean that where interests 
conflict the judge, in pronouncing judgment, always and neces- 
sarily balances one against another. In the first place the situa- 
tion may be one concerning which he has already formed an 
opinion. In that event his judgment may be a mere repetition of 
a previous one of his own, or an echo of someone else’s pronounce- 
ment, and thus involve no mental process but memory. Or it may 
be the result of a subsumption under some general principle, 
such as, “Promises are to be kept.^' In the second place the judge 
may see only one side of the situation. How easily this may 
happen is shown to perfection in the ordinary discussion of labor 
disputes. Some persons look at them solely as matters between 
employer and employee; others solely from the point of view of 
the consumer. Only a small minority seem to possess a vision 
broad enough to include all the issues involved. Finally there may 
enter into the judgment dealing with the conflicting claims of 
rival interests a factor as yet unnamed, the consideration of 
which will best be deferred till we reach Chapter VIII, page 126. 

Before leaving this subject I must repeat the warning of the 
preceding Chapter. The principles here described are not to be 
thought of as formulas existing ready-made in the background 
of the layman’s mind. They determine his judgment upon indi- 
vidual situations. But they are not necessarily for him conscious 
generalizations. A principle may govern our action, our thoughts, 
or our feelings without our being explicitly aware of its existence 
within us. When a man dodges an automobile he need not act 
with the proposition before his mind: It is impossible for two 



60 


ETHICS 


material bodies to occupy the same space at the same time. And 
most of us use Mill’s ^Tour methods” for determining causes and 
effects all our lives without ever having taken the first step 
towards formulating them. 


Summary of Chapters II and III 

Chapter II attempted to show that in all original judgments 
actions are pronounced right or wrong according to their relation 
as means to the good or harm of some or all of those thereby 
affected. For the eudemonic judgment actions are right in so 
far as they result in good or avert or remove some evil; wrong in 
so far as they result in positive evil or loss of attainable good. 
In the dysdemonic judgment the relationship is reversed, and it 
is the infliction of a harm or the removal of a good that is 
judged right. 

The dysdemonic judgment is seldom or never required to pass 
upon the competing claims of two parties. In other words the 
judge is not considering whether A ought to be punished rather 
than B because it is impossible to punish both. The question be- 
fore him is merely whether A ought to be punished at all, and if 
so, how severely. In the eudemonic judgment, on the other hand, 
the question of the distribution of good and evil is constantly 
forced upon us by the actual interpenetration of human interests. 
Moralists have often assumed that in such cases the greater good 
(including the most favorable attainable balance of good over 
evil when some of the latter is inevitable), or where evil is un- 
avoidable, the least evil possible under the conditions, will be 
regarded always and by everyone as having the right of way. 
But, as we have seen, this is far from being true; for by many 
persons the good of those whose interests strike the imagination 
the more forcibly, or of those who are nearer to the agent or who 
are more excellent in personality, may be held on occasions to 
have the superior claim. 

If these conclusions are valid Subjectivism is justified in its 
fundamental contention. Mutually contradictory moral judg- 
ments do exist. On the other hand the range in variations is a 
comparatively limited one. For at most such judgments, how- 



THE CONFLICT OF INTERESTS 51 

ever divergent, can only represent different opinions as to what 
may be called the “location” of good and evil, that is to say, 
different answers to the questions. Who may be, or who ought to 
be harmed? Who may be, or who ought to be serv'ed? The exact 
significance of this statement will appear as we proceed. 



Chaptbb IV 

THE OBJECT OF THE MORAL JUDGMENT 

AccoKDiNG to the preceding Chapters the rightness or wrongness 
of an act is determined by its results. But this statement is 
ambiguous. Does it mean the actual results, the expected results, 
or the will to produce certain results? The answer to this question 
supplies the subject matter of this Chapter. By way of prepara- 
tion, we shall find it advantageous to begin with an analysis of 
voluntary action. 

This analysis is required because, as we all know, voluntary 
action is the only kind of action to which we attach moral 
praise or blame. A cyclone may do incalculable harm, a timely 
shower save an entire crop, but no one would apply moral epithets 
to either. To bo sure these phenomena represent merely the work- 
ing of material forces; but not all the actions of conscious beings 
belong under the jurisdiction of the moral judgment. An infant 
may break a valuable vase; a soldier may unwittingly sneeze 
and thereby reveal the presence of an army in a surprise attack; 
a man afflicted with homicidal mania may kill his child. Yet none 
of these actions, provided its nature was understood, would be 
considered wrong. Only actions believed to be voluntary, then, 
call forth moral approval and disapproval. Accordingly the prob- 
lem of the Chapter may be stated in this form: What element of 
a voluntary act is at fault when we judge it to be wrong, and 
what element is it whose satisfactory condition leads us to call 
it right? 

The Nature of Voluntary Action 

To answer this question we shall have to analyze voluntary 
action. Its essential feature is the acceptance or rejection of a 
certain state of things regarded by the agent as attainable. It is, 
so to speak, the saying to oneself, “This shall — or shall not^ — 
come into existence.” This acceptance or rejection is called a 
volition, or “act of will." It refers always to the future. The future 

52 



THE OBJECT OF THE MORAL JUDGMENT 53 

may be only a second distant, or it may be some period after 
one’s death, as in writing one’s last will and testament. The state 
of things may be a state of the material world, as when I move a 
chair or light a fire in the fireplace; it may be a state of some 
other person’s mind, as where I inform a stranger how to find the 
university campus; it may be a state of my own mind, as when 
I repeat a telephone number in order that I may be able to recall 
it when needed. The state of things, once more, may be some- 
thing not in existence, as in lighting the fire; or it may be the 
continuance of something now existing which would cease to be 
if it were not for my active interference, as in putting more wood 
on the fire after it is started. 

First, then, in a typical case there is the idea of a result which 
the agent believes can be brought about by the contraction of 
his muscles, and by the consequent motions of certain parts of 
his body. This idea is accepted or adopted by the agent in the 
sense that he says in effect: ‘Xet that which the idea represents 
come into being.” Thereupon, under normal conditions, the ap- 
propriate bodily motions take place, and these in turn produce 
the state of things which was the goal of the volition. Precisely 
what is meant by that somewhat mysterious term acceptance 
is a matter upon which the experts differ. This much, however, 
is certain and obvious. It can not take place apart from desire. 
A desire involves the idea of a ‘^state of things” and a tendency 
to consent to its existence. A tendency means a force which will 
operate except as hindered by some opposing force. The opposing 
force in this case is a conflicting desire. In the simplest form of 
volition there is but one desire present. Frequently, however, this 
has to meet the opposition of another desire. For example, a 
man possessed of the average amount of health and vigor be- 
comes aware that the room has grown too cool for comfort. 
Without hesitation he rises from his seat and puts some wood on 
the fire. No counterconsiderations need occur to his mind. There 
is no clash of rival forces because it takes two to make a quarrel. 
Another man who is in the same external situation has rheuma- 
tism, so that every movement brings physical suffering. With 
him the desire for a warmer room will come into conflict with 
the desire to avoid organic pain. Often, of course, several desires 



54 


ETHICS 


fuse into one, as perhaps in my desire to play golf this afternoon. 
Indeed the majority of our desires, I suppose, appear in con- 
sciousness as members of a more or less complex system. When 
our description of volition attempts to pass beyond these simple 
facts it plunges into a jungle of difficulties. Fortunately, however, 
ethics is not compelled to formulate an opinion about them. The 
moralist, therefore, may pass the problems — as he does with 
cheerfulness — over to the psychologist. 

When we use the term act do we mean merely the volition, or 
this plus the bodily motions, or these plus the effects; and if 
the last, how many of these effects? The answer of course is that 
this is precisely as the speaker may choose. However, common 
usage certainly accepts, in the main, the third alternative. If you 
object that the effects may go on forever the reply is, only those 
effects are counted a part of the act which were foreseen at the 
time of the adoption; or perhaps those in addition which would 
have been foreseen if the agent had used ^‘ordinary^^ foresight. 
This has been well shown by Abraham Tucker, who writes: 

''In speaking of action we usually comprehend several operations 
acting in a series towards completing the purpose we had in view, 
provided we conceive them necessarily consequent upon our volition. 
Thus when Roger shot the hawk hovering over his master’s dove-house, 
he only pulled the trigger; the action of the spring drove down the 
flint, the action of the flint struck fire into the pan, the action of the 
fire set the powder in blaze, that of the powder forced out the shot, 
that of the shot wounded the bird, and that of gravity brought her 
to the ground. But all this we ascribe to Roger, for we say he brought 
down the felon; and if we think the shot a nice one, we applaud him 
for having done a clever feat. So likewise we claim the actions of 
other persons for our owm, whenever we expect they will certainly fol- 
low as we shall direct. When Squire Peremptory distrained his tenant 
for rent, perhaps he did no more than write his orders in a letter; this 
his servant carried to the post, the postman conveyed it into the coun- 
try where it was delivered to the steward, who sent his clerk to make 
the distress. Yet we ascribe the whole to the Squire's own doing, for 
we say he distrained his tenant; and call it a prudent or a cruel act, 
according as we think of the circumstances of the case." * 

The rejection of a suggestion is, of course. Just as truly a 
volition as is the acceptance. The name which this kind of a 
volition bears in law is forbearance. A failure to keep an ap- 

* The Light of Nature Pursued, Ch. II, sec. 9. 



THE OBJECT OF THE MORAL JUDGMENT 55 

pointment through forgetfulness is an unintentional or inad-> 
vertent omission. *^But if I remember an appointment and resolve 
not to keep it, [the omission] is intentional and is called a for- 
bearance.” * 

Intention and Motive Defined 

A voluntary act, as we have seen, always involves a looking 
forward to results. These expected results may be called the in- 
tention of the act (linguistic usage is, unfortunately, not entirely 
uniform). According to this terminology, therefore, the intention 
includes all the expected consequences of the inner process, be- 
ginning with the bodily movements. This means, it must be noted, 
not merely those for the sake of which the action was under- 
taken, but also those which were distasteful or were for any 
reason objected to, and also those, if foreseen, to which the agent 
was perfectly indifferent. Thus if I stop a lecture to open a 
window, my intention includes not merely freshening or cooling 
the air wdth its consequences, but also an interruption to the 
thinking of the class consequent upon the fact that they can not 
let me do anything so interesting as opening a window without 
following my movements with an absorbed attention which they 
may not have been giving to my words. It includes in addition 
to this consequence, which a lecturer who cared anything for his 
work would deplore, others to which he is ordinarily indifferent, 
such as the making of a certain amount of noise by raising the 
window. All these things are parts of the intention, if the thought 
of them was in the mind when action began.® 

We commonly distinguish between the intention of an act and 
its motive. Unfortunately, however, few terms in the vocabulary 
of psychology or ethics are used with so much ambiguity or 
divergence of meaning, both by layman and special student. 
And yet the matter seems simple enough. A motive is obviously 
that which moves a man to act. But this is always, in voluntary 

•Salmond, Jurisprudence, 7th Edition, sec. 128, p. 382. 

•The word intention is here used in a purely technical sense. While 
the meaning here adopted can be justified, 1 think, by linguistic usage, we 
must particularly note that it is not identical with the meaning of the 
verb, I intend. This commonly affirms the existence of a volition which 
is to be realized in the future, as **1 intend to study this afternoon”; 
whereas the intention has to do with one element in a volition, the idea 
of the total effects which the agent, in willing, expects to produce. 



66 


ETHICS 


action, a wish or desire. Some desires produce action; others fail 
to do so either because they involve, or are thought to involve an 
impossibility, or because they are overcome by conflicting desires. 
A motive, then, is a desire which leads to action. Thus if I decide 
to stop the lecture and open the window, my motive is the desire 
to have the room more comfortable for the class and myself. 

The Object of the Moral Judgment Is Neither the Actual 
NOR THE Expected Results 

The foregoing analysis will appreciably facilitate, I believe, 
the solution of the problem of the Chapter. This may be stated, 
for the moment, in the following words: Is it the actual results, 
the intention, or the motives of a voluntary act that call forth 
moral approbation and disapprobation? 

The first alternative may be excluded at once. Consider, for 
example, the two following cases: (1) The executor of an estate 
loses a portion of the property entrusted to his care by investing 
it in the bonds of a corporation that goes into bankruptcy. The 
corporation was one in which he had no personal interest, and the 
investment was made only after a very careful investigation into 
its status and prospects had convinced him that it represented all 
that could be desired in the matter of safety. (2) The executor of 
an estate, having conceived a bitter hatred for his ward, invests 
the latter’s money in securities that he believes will fall in value. 
Instead of that they rise and make his ward rich. An analysis 
of these cases shows at once that right and wrong are not de- 
termined by the actual results. No distinction is more common 
than that between a misfortune, a mistake, and a wrong. A mis- 
fortune is an event which is due to circumstances entirely beyond 
our power to control. A mistake is an action whose outcome is due 
to misinformation or lack of information. The first of the two 
incidents just described must be classed as either a misfortune 
or a mistake. It is only the second that is a wrong. 

The morality of an action is thus not determined by its actual 
results. Is, then, its rightness or wrongness dependent upon the 
nature of the intention or of the motive? Clearly not the former; 
for you may have two persons acting with precisely the same 
intention — that is to say, foreseeing the same consequences as 



THE OBJECT OF THE MORAL JUDGMENT 57 

flowing from their actions — ^but from different motives, and you 
may approve one man's action as right and disapprove the other 
as wrong. A soldier in battle, for example, goes forward to meet 
the enemy of his country solely because there is an oflScer behind 
him who will shoot him if he runs away. Next to him is a soldier 
in exactly the same external situation, but whose resolution to 
meet and help conquer the enemy is absolutely undetermined by 
the loaded revolver at his back. Both face the same conditions, 
and have the same intention. That is to say both have willed the 
same muscular contractions — those involved in rushing forward, 
etc., and have accepted the same set of consequences, namely, the 
possibility of being killed by the enemy, with the escape from 
the certainty of being killed by the officer; and also, of course, 
the consequences to the enemy army involved in their decision. 
But each has adopted this mode of action from different motives; 
one from the desire to save his own life, the other from the desire 
to serve his country. Is the act of the first man on the same moral 
level with that of the second? In reality, though outwardly iden- 
tical, they are acts of a very different order, as is proved by 
the fact that the first can properly be called neither an act of 
courage nor of patriotism; while the second, not deriving its 
character from the presence of the ofiBcer, is as truly an act of 
patriotic devotion as if he were not there. 

Again a man gives money to charity in order to advertise his 
business. Here, obviously, the act is on precisely the same moral 
plane as any other advertising venture (disregarding, for the sake 
of simplicity, the implication of hypocrisy, which of course would 
make it worse). His intention is to help the hospital and enrich 
himself. But if the only part of the intention which moves him is 
the idea of making money, then from the moral point of view his 
act has no more moral value than any other scheme for increasing 
his balance at the bank. 

The Object of the Moral Judgment Is the Volition 

The conclusion thus seems unavoidable that it is the motives 
rather than either the actual or the expected results which deter- 
mine the moral value of actions. But we have not yet reached^ 
the end of our journey. Suppose an executor steals his waxd^ 



68 


ETHICS 


money. Here the motive, the desire to possess money, is entirely 
innocent. The trouble with the act lies in considerations which 
were before the mind at the time of the decision but which failed 
to move the will; considerations, namely, of good faith and the 
interests of the ward. In other words, we condemn it not because 
of the actual motives which entered into and determined the 
character of the volition but because of possible motives 
which failed to determine it. 

Our judgment of the soldier who remains in the line solely 
because of the consequences involved in running away supplies 
another illustration of the same principle. His desire to save his 
life is commendable. But his decision to go forward, which is, 
of course, morally on a par with the decision to run in the 
absence of the oflScer, is entitled to be called a coward’s decision 
because it is made in utter indifference to the call of patriotism, 
in consequence of a calculation that the balance of personal 
safety was in favor of going in one direction rather than the 
other. 

Again, consider an incident such as the following. A man drives 
a car along a city street at forty miles an hour and in so doing 
kills a child. We regard him as guilty of a great wrong. But of 
course he did not desire to kill the child. Our condemnation rests 
upon the assumption that he was aware of the probability, or at 
any rate of the possibility of the accident and was too indifferent 
about human life to allow it to affect his conduct. 

These illustrations do not represent exceptions, but rather the 
ordinary course of the moral judgment. Most of our disapproba- 
tions are not due to the nature of the motive. This is always, at 
the lowest, innocent, except where it consists in malice or ill-will 
in some of its varied forms. The trouble with men ordinarily 
is not what moves them to action, but what fails to move them. 
Man’s nature can not fairly be accused of total depravity, as 
some theologians have taught. The trouble with most of us is not 
that we are perverse, but that we are half-baked. 

The conclusion which emerges from the foregoing analysis is 
really a very simple one. In judging an act we look to its motives. 
But we take into account not merely the motives, that is, the 
desires that bring it into existence (see above, page 55), but 



THE OBJECT OF THE MORAL JUDGMENT 59 

also those desires which fail to produce efifects because they are 
too weak. And when their strength drops to zero, in other words 
to the point of complete indifference, as in the case of the speeder, 
w’e recognize this fact as significant also. Now desires, counting 
weak and strong, present and absent, determine the nature of 
the volition. Therefore the object of the moral judgment is the 
volition as a whole — the volition to produce a certain result or 
set of results. 

The preceding discussion has introduced us to a distinction of 
the highest importance, that between the direction of a desire 
and its strength. Presumably all persons desire wealth; a few 
in somewhat lukewarm fashion, the great majority with an ardent 
and never dimmed intensity. The strength of a desire is measured 
by the amount of opposition from other desires which it is capable 
of overcoming. It is thus by no means identical wdth the amount 
of feeling which accompanies the pursuit of a desired end, or 
w’hich is aroused by fruition or failure. The factor of feeling is, to 
a considerable extent, a matter of temperament, and is perhaps 
strongest in the sentimentalist, wdio will do nothing at the cost 
of effort. Repetition, or habit, strengthens desire, but lowers the 
amount of feeling. And every man with any moral backbone 
W’hatever has carried through a purpose representing some desire 
or system of desires, against the protests of very strong feelings, 
such as intense bodily pain, fatigue, etc., when the desire which 
urged him forward was almost as bare of actual consciously ex- 
perienced feeling as is the thought of most of us at this moment 
of the properties of a triangle. Men who have engaged in any 
endurance test, like certain athletic contests, will know at once 
w'hat I mean. 

Our study of the object of the moral judgment shows that we 
judge a volition not merely according to the direction of the de- 
sires w^hich make it what it is, but also by their strength. And we 
appraise it not merely according to the strength or weakness of 
the defeated desires, but also according to that of the victorious 
ones. It is clear that we can not do otherwise. Strength means 
more of a given thing; and more of a good thing is better than 
less, w^hile more of a bad thing is worse than less. An act of 
charity, for instance, clearly derives its character not merely from 



60 


ETHICS 


the goal which it sets before itself but also from the amount of 
the spirit of charity which it exhibits. For example, we think 
better of a man who is willing to make a great effort to serve a 
friend than of one who is willing to do a little, but not much; we 
think better, again, of a man who subscribes a hundred dollars 
to the community chest than of one who, with equal income and 
equal demands upon his purse, subscribes only ten.^ 

This means, among other things, that when we say it is the 
volition to which we attach the adjectives right and wrong, we 
mean by volition something very different from a “New Year's 
resolution." Such resolutions may make a man feel good, but will 
never make him good. They are the specialty of the sentimen- 
talist, who always feels but never acts; and from the moral point 
of view he is in some respects the most hopeless specimen of the 
human race. The only volition that counts is that which is so 
completely a part of the self that it will pass over into action 
unless circumstances outside of the control of the agent render 
this impossible. “Right action," says Professor Mackenzie, “in- 
volves a determined effort to produce a good result." A volition 
is morally worthless unless it will lead to a determined effort in 
the face of either inner or outer opposition or difficulties. 

A Volition Is Right or Wrong According to the Attitude 
Exhibited in It Towards Good and Evil 

The statement that the moral judgment looks to the desires is, 
as it stands, too broad. What counts in the forming of moral 
judgments is not the presence or absence of any and every desire, 
but only of certain desires. Consider, for example, the actions 
that made up the life of George Washington. Apparently none of 
them exhibited the existence of any desire for fame; none or 
few of them, any desire for knowledge lying outside of the fields 
in which, in one capacity or another, he was called upon to act. 
The absence of these motive forces had nothing to do with the 

* The distinction between the direction and the strength of a volition is 
well illustrated by the Chinese moralist Mencius: “As in the case of shoot- 
ing at a mark a hundred paces distant: that you reach it is owing to your 
strength ; that you hit the mark is not owing to your strength [but to the 
direction in which you aim the arrow ] Works t Book V ; Part 11, Ch. I, 
sec. 7. (Legge’s translation of the Chinese Classics, Vol. II.) 



THE OBJECT OF THE MORAL JUDGMENT 61 

moral quality of Washington’s volitions. It is true that the 
paucity of his intellectual interests would make him appeal to 
many educated men as a less congenial personality. Consequently 
when they take to writing on ethics they may be tempted to 
treat such indifference as a flaw of character. But no one who 
is capable of distinguishing between the attractions of a man 
because of identity of tastes and the attractions of a man because 
he is good will make any such mistake. As a matter of fact, if the 
conclusions of the present Chapter and of Chapter II are sound, 
right and wrong depend upon just one condition, namely, the 
determination of the volition by either of two desires. These are 
the desire for good and the desire for evil. The eudemonic judg- 
ment approves the desire for the good of conscious beings (to- 
gether with the aversion from their harm) and disapproves its 
absence and its opposite. The dysdemonic judgment approves the 
desire for the harm of certain persons, and disapproves its ab- 
sence and its opposite. 

Characteb as the Object of the Moral Judgment 

It is often said that in the last resort it is character which is 
the object of the moral judgment. This statement represents 
really the fundamental truth of the matter. By character is here 
meant the source of the individual volitions. To venture beyond 
this statement would be to go into metaphysics which this book 
will avoid as far as possible. It will be sufficient to say that char- 
acter bears the same relation to the individual volition that 
memory does to a given act of recollection — whatever this rela- 
tionship may be. Now we know the memory only through acts 
of recollection, and we know the character only through the 
individual volitions. Hence the latter must be the first object 
judged. Furthermore it is the volition that directly produces the 
desirable results. But, of course, we are more concerned for the 
permanent than for the temporary, and hence we constantly look 
behind the passing individual volition to the character which we 
think of as back of it. ^'Am I losing my memory?” anxiously in- 
quires a man when he has failed to recall something which he 
thought was entirely at his command. The individual lapse may 
in itself be a matter of no importance. But as the sign of a failing 



62 


ETHICS 


memory it may be portentous. It is thus with character also. The 
judgment upon the single volition and that upon the source of 
volitions have the same roots and the same nature. Is character 
or the individual volition the object of the moral judgment? The 
answer is, both. But from the nature of the case a flaw in the 
character is a far more serious matter than a casual fault in a 
single volition. 

The position that character is the ultimate object of the moral 
judgment is confirmed by the rapid increase in the amount of our 
condemnation for an offense in the event of repetition. A second 
act of theft is regarded as a far graver matter than the first one ; 
the reason being that it points to a permanent trend in the char- 
acter. It is also confirmed by the distinction which we make be- 
tween a premeditated wrong and one committed on the spur of 
the moment. The same conclusion follows from our attitude 
towards omissions. The omission of an act, as we saw on page 
54, above, may be due to a volition not to perform it. In 
this case, of course, the volition in question is subject to the 
same approbation or condemnation as any other. But an unin- 
tentional or inadvertent omission, due, for example, to forget- 
fulness, may under certain circumstances be regarded as a moral 
fault. A boy persistently brings mud into the house on his shoes, 
though his weary mother has to do all the cleaning. “I never 
think,” is the excuse he offers. But why doesn’t he think? The 
answer is, nine times out of ten, that he does not greatly care. 
There are a number of conditions which determine the effective 
functioning of memory. But perhaps the most powerful single 
one is the amount of attention given to that which is to be re- 
membered — in this case the request of the mother ; and attention, 
in its turn, is dependent upon interest. Accordingly: No interest, 
no ‘^thinking.” Thus we see it is only half true that ‘Turpose is 
but the slave to memory.” Memory is, on the contrary, in all 
matters connected with action, to a large extent the slave of pur- 
pose. So is imagination, in the sense of the power to work out 
new forms of service not suggested by past experience or obser- 
vation or reading. One of America’s most successful business men 
tells how on his first day at work he was loaded down with a long 
list of commissions. “What shall I do if I forget one?” he asked. 



THE OBJECT OF THE MORAL JUDGMENT 63 


''You mustn’t forget,” was the answer. "I do not intend to forget, 
but suppose I should?” "You mustn’t forget,” was the answer re- 
peated w’ith some additional vigor. After this dialogue had been 
recited several times, w’ith continually increasing warmth on the 
part of the employer, the boy left the store to carry out his orders. 
He did not forget any of them. Our responsibility for thinking 
when thinking is necessary applies not merely to thoughts of 
action, as wiping one’s shoes on the mat, but also to thoughts of 
I)ossible consequences, as dangers. The failure to think of these 
is called heedlessness. However, wdiile all this is true, we must be 
careful about applying it to our judgments upon others without 
discrimination, for perhaps one time out of ten the memory may 
slip a cog from causes with which interest or want of interest has 
nothing to do. 

Summary 

Voluntary action is the only form of action that calls forth the 
moral judgment. Everyone knows this, but, as students of ethics, 
we wish to have more definite information, and to find out pre- 
cisely what part of a voluntary action it is that produces this 
response. A voluntary act consists of three parts: a volition, the 
consequent muscular contractions, and the results of these con- 
tractions in the world of matter or of conscious life. In volition 
as in desire there must be an end in view. But it ordinarily 
happens that we can not realize the desired end without producing 
certain results to which we are indifferent, and others which we 
desire should not be. The sum total of these foreseen results of 
the volition are called its intention, A motive may be defined as 
that part of an intention for the sake of which the volition takes 
place. This is the same as saying that the motive is the desire 
which leads to action, since a desire is the idea of a state of 
things to which the self consents, or would consent if it were not 
for opposing desires. 

Neither results, nor the intention as such is the object of the 
moral judgment. This is rather the motive. But the volition takes 
its character not merely from the desire that was strong enough 
to produce action, but also from those desires which were too 
weak to hinder the action, including those ideas of possible re- 



64 ETHICS 

suits which were in the agent’s mind at the time but to which he 
was completely indifferent. 

Absence of desire or absence of a sufficiently strong desire to 
prevent the action from taking place indicates the quality of a 
volition, just as the absence of a railroad characterizes a town, 
or the absence of ordinary intelligence is the distinguishing mark 
of that person of very positive qualities, the fool. There are 
criminals who commit murder and robbery without a single 
qualm. This absence of aversion from the shedding of blood is as 
distinctive a trait of the volition to kill as is the love of money 
which ordinarily forms its motive. In volition, then, we look 
indeed to the intention, but we do so in order to discover the 
relation of the agent’s desires to it: What did he want, to what 
did he feel an aversion, to what was he indifferent? 

Furthermore, we ask not merely what he wanted, but also 
how much he wanted it. A volition is characterized by the 
strength of the various elements which compose it, as well as by 
their direction. Finally, the moral judgment does not concern 
itself with the presence or absence of any and every desire, but 
only with certain ones, namely, the desire for good and the 
desire for harm. Approbation and disapprobation turn on the 
attitude taken by the agent towards the good or harm which 
results from his action. 

We do not contradict the preceding analysis if we say that 
character is the object of the moral judgment, because character 
is definable (as you may wish) either as the sum of a man’s 
volitions, or his dominant volitions, or the source of his volitions. 

There are certain apparent difficulties involved in these con- 
clusions. Chapter IX will show that they are due to ambiguities 
in the meaning of the word right 



Chapter V 

EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND THE DESIRE TO HARM 

The object of moral approbation and disapprobation, as we 
have learned in the last Chapter, is the presence or absence of cer- 
tain attitudes towards welfare. These attitudes consist in the de- 
sire to serve and the desire to harm, respectively. Furthermore the 
source of moral approbation and disapprobation, as I shall try 
to show in succeeding Chapters, is to be found precisely in these 
same desires. The desire to serve takes the form of egoism or 
altruism, according as self or another is the object of the desire. 
The desire to harm I shall not attempt to name at present. 
Egoism, altruism, and the desire to harm form the subject mat- 
ter of the present Chapter. We shall now seek to determine their 
nature and the principal laws in accordance with which they 
operate. It will be most convenient to begin with the study of 
egoism. 

I 

Definitions or Egoism and Altruism 

Egoistic action can not be defined, as it sometimes has been, 
as the fulfilling of one’s own desires, for every voluntary action 
is and can be nothing other than this. Whether I desire to go 
to the theater this evening or to send a friend who has little 
money and little opportunity for enjoyment, whether I desire 
education for myself, or, in another period of life, for my chil- 
dren, whether I desire to save myself or a child in the street 
from being run over by an automobile, whether I desire revenge, 
or the possession of power, or the glory or welfare of my coun- 
try, the desire, in the very nature of the case, must be mine. 
TMiose else could it be? The characteristic feature of egoistic 
action, as distinguished from altruistic, must be found, not in 
its source, but in its object. Again egoistic action can not be de- 
fined, as it also has been, as action which has self for its imme- 

65 



66 


ETHICS 


diate object. It is a well-established fact of criminal psychology 
that the repentant sinner, in indignation against himself, some- 
times deliberately seeks suffering and even death for himself, 
or refuses to attempt to avoid it when it is brought upon him 
by others.^ Egoism, as the word is commonly used, involves some 
kind of concern for one’s own interests, and therefore can never 
include the wish to injure self solely for the sake of injury. To 
call such a phenomenon egoism would be as much a blurring 
of distinctions as to call the desire to humiliate or destroy your 
enemy altruism. 

A third definition is open to us, and this, I believe, supplies 
us with an answer to our question. According to this an egoistic 
action is one which I perform with a view to the attainment of 
some good for myself. 

Precisely what is meant by the term good must be left for dis- 
cussion till a later Chapter. Everyone knows what it means till 
someone asks him; that is to say, he knows its meaning in the 
same sense in which he knows the meaning of the word right, 
cause, and probability; in other words, he knows just enough of 
it for ordinary practical purposes. Good is a synonym for wel- 
fare; and with this enough will have been said to meet our 
present need. 

The good which is the object of my desire may be a good in 
the concrete, some definite state of myself which I believe I shall 
find worth while when it comes, as a visit this evening with my 
old friend Smith. On the other hand, it may be a bare abstract 
idea of a good as such. An illustration of this latter is the per- 
ennial, inextinguishable, and well-nigh universal desire for a 
larger income. This desire may be, perhaps in most persons is, 
a desire for the opportunity to obtain a number of concrete goods 
which the individual can enumerate, the enjoyment of which he 
can picture more or less completely in the imagination. But in 
many, probably most persons, it is more. The money is desired 
also because it is something which can be used to satisfy any 
desires (of certain kinds) as they arise, whatever they may 
turn out to be. We can see the significance of this most clearly 
through its absence. Many six-year-old boys will absolutely 

*C/. above Chapter II, page 31. 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 67 

refuse to work for money except as there is some definite end 
before their mind which can be attained only through cash in 
hand. By the time they are ten, however, most of them can be 
induced to sell small portions of their freedom even when they 
have no idea of what they are going to do with the money, or 
when they intend to save it against some unknown date for the 
realization of some undetermined purpose. 

The desire for my good, as has been pointed out elsewhere 
(Chapter IV, page 52), is always the desire for my future good. 
When a man is raising a glass of water to his lips he is acting 
with the purpose of bringing into existence a state of himself not 
yet existing. But the act of preserving the status quo, as where 
he replenishes the fire in order to maintain the present tempera- 
ture of the room, is also an act wdiicli looks to the future. Egoism, 
therefore, must be defined as the desire for a future state of 
myself which I believe to be good. 

In defining egoism we have at the same time been paving the 
way for a definition of altruism. Like egoism it is the desire for 
good, in this case the good of some person, or persons, or group 
besides self. Like egoism it must, from the very nature of volun- 
tary action, refer to the future, even though it be a future re- 
moved from the present by the tick of a watch. Altruism, then, 
is the desire for a future state of another or others which I be- 
lieve will be a good state for them to be in. It should go without 
saying that a desire is altruistic only in so far as the good of 
the other is desired as an end in itself, not as a means to some 
good for myself. 

From our definitions of egoism and altruism there follows a 
very important conclusion: Egoism and altruism are not separate 
and independent desires like curiosity and approbati veness ; they 
are simply two different directions of the same force. The funda- 
mental principle, of which each is a manifestation, may be 
formulated as follows: The thought of a good as such tends to 
arouse a desire for its realization or attainment. Since it is con- 
venient to have a name for this spring of action I suggest that 
in psychological and ethical discussion we employ for this pur- 
pose the term benevolence, using it, of course, not in its common 
but in its etymological significance as the willing well to anyone. 



68 


ETHICS 


The alternative is an invention compounded out of Greek or 
Latin roots, which it is desirable to avoid as far as possible. 
Any case, then, of desire for good, whether it be the good of self, 
or of another, or others, whether as individuals or a group, is, in 
the nomenclature of this book, a case of benevolence. 

The Existence op Altruism 

As the existence of altruism has always been denied by some, 
we must now inquire whether there is really anything in human 
nature corresponding to the name. Certainly the burden of proof 
rests upon him who denies. For however great may be the total 
volume of egoistic actions, anyone who does not live in a Hell 
on earth has assuredly had the opportunity to see any number 
of actions in which altruistic desire was, to all appearance, at 
least a factor, even a leading factor, and far from infrequently 
the sole, or the sole decisive factor. Examples range from the 
parental or the fraternal devotion which denies itself luxuries and 
sometimes what are considered necessities, in order that a son or 
daughter, a brother or sister, may be given an education, to the 
man who, face to face with death, elects to die that others may 
live.* And it shows itself, of course, not merely in positive service 
but also in numberless forbearances, — in the refusal to injure 
another for the sake of personal gain. 

“There is always a supply of courage when needed,” says a 
magazine article, apropos of the heroic death of a fireman. Our 
Civil War was fought largely by volunteers on both sides; while 
the English, the Canadian, and the Australian armies in the 
World War were either entirely or in large part composed of 
men who offered their lives to save the life of their country. 
The motives of those who made the great surrender were un- 
doubtedly of more than one kind; the commonplace and the 
ignoble alike appearing, and sometimes mingling with the highest 
considerations in the same person. But what I wish to emphasize 
here is the fact that the altruistic motives are present also, 
equally with the love of adventure and the fear of public opinion.* 

*See Gustav Kobbe, “Every Day Heroism,” Century Magazine, Vol. 55, 
p. 400. 

•See T. H. Procter, “The Motives of the Soldier,” International Journal 
of Ethicz, Vol. 31, October, 1920, p. 26. 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 69 

But ‘^peace hath her victories” — and her heroes— *'no less re- 
nowned than war.” Shortly after the close of the Spanish-Ameri- 
can War the American commission appointed to investigate the 
cause of yellow fever called for volunteers among the enlisted 
men of the American army of occupation in Cuba to enable them 
to test their theories of the relation of yellow fever to the bite 
of the infected mosquito. There were more volunteers offering 
themselves for the service than were needed. All faced the cer- 
tainty that some would undergo a serious and painful illness, with 
the possibility of death at the end. In addition, those who volun- 
teered to test the view that the germs of yellow fever were carried 
by clothing, slept for three weeks in a closed cabin, in stifling heat, 
using bedclothes and night clothes which had covered those who 
had died of yellow fever and which were foul and filthy with its 
excreta to an unimaginable degree.* 

The germ of the capacity for such devotion is not even the 
property of a select few — the moral elite — but is spread broad- 
cast, even though it may not be absolutely universal, in the race. 
For no one whole-heartedly admires a man for heroism unless he 
feels within himself at least some stirrings of the impulse to do 
likewise; unless, in other words, he wishes he had the will which 
would enable him to act in like manner under the same condi- 
tions. Otherwise he despises the man as a fool. Thus most per- 
sons on the whole feel contempt rather than admiration for Saint 
Simeon Stylites, w^ho stood on the top of a pillar in the desert 
for the last half of his life as the most ingenious and effective 
method he could contrive for making himself thoroughly miser- 
able. In the darkest days of our Civil War, Jay Gould, ‘'Jim” 
Fiske, Daniel Drew, and a number of other financial cutthroats 
wrent to President Lincoln with a “proposition” which would net 
him “millions.” He was to be let into one of their little deals, 
on condition, of course, of a suitable return of favors on his part. 
When he refused to have anything to do with their scheme, they 
felt no admiration for his patriotism. On the contrary they 
thought and said that he was “crazy” for being wrapped up in 
“saving the Union,” when he might be making his fortune. He 
was simply a being beyond their powers of comprehension. If, 

-H. A. KeUy, Walter Reed and YeUow Fever, Ch. VI. 



70 


ETHICS 


then, you feel the attraction of the finer manifestations of char- 
acter, even though you are too weak to imitate them in your own 
life, this means that there is something in the end for which the 
sacrifice was made that appeals to you. It points to the existence 
in you of a corresponding desire, however impotent it might 
prove to be in the face of serious temptation. 

These potentialities for sacrifice show themselves as living 
forces in certain situations, even in men in whom they commonly 
fail to reveal their existence in the ordinary routine of every- 
day life. After the sinking of the Titanic, Mr. George Kennan, 
the celebrated traveler and authority on Russian affairs, wrote 
a letter to the Outlook, a part of which reads as follows: 

'The courage and unselfishness shown by an overwhelming majority 
of the passengers on the ill-fated steamship Titanic have recalled to 
my mind the remarkable exhibition of the same heroic and generous 
characteristics by the citizens of San Francisco during the great earth- 
quake and fire of 1906. I did not myself reach the city until some 
weeks after the disaster, but the remembrance of the events of that 
period of strain and suffering w^as still fresh in the mind of every ob- 
server or participant, and I was greatly impressed by the enthusiasm 
and deep feeling shown by everybody in speaking of the behavior of 
the population. One friend of mine in Oakland — a man not at all in- 
clined to be 'gushing’ or effusive in speech — said to me: 'I am glad that 
I lived to see the things that happened in the first ten days after that 
great catastrophe. Those days w^ere the best and most inspiriting part 
of my life. Religious people talk about the '‘kingdom of heaven,” but 
few of them expect to live long enough to see it realized on earth. I 
saw something that very nearly approached it in San Francisco, Berke- 
ley, and Oakland in the week that followed the fire. Cowardice, selfish- 
ness, greed, and all the baser emotions and impulses of human character 
practically disappeared in the tremendous strain of that experience, and 
courage, fortitude, sympathy, generosity, and unbounded self-sacrifice 
took their places. Men became, and for a short time continued to be, 
all 'that we may suppose their Creator intended them to be, and it was 
a splendid and inspiriting thing to witness. We imagine that we live in 
a selfish and materialistic age, and perhaps we do; but I know now of 
what human nature — humanity as a whole — is capable, and I can never 
again take a pessimistic view of the w^orld’s future.’ ” * 

The revolutionary changes produced in the spirit of the peo- 
ple of San Francisco by the great earthquake and fire are not 
diflScult to explain. The clue is offered by a sentence of Shake- 
speare’s: “Spirits are not finely touched but to fine issues.” The 

•Outlook, Vol. 101, 1912, p. 84. 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 71 

average man is most effectually moved to great effort or great 
sacrifice for the benefit of others who arc strangers to him by 
some evil, actual or impending, that makes a direct and impres- 
sive appeal to his imagination. One of these evils is death. Accord- 
ingly it is seldom that a workman flinches where it is a question 
of his escape from a mine or a flooded caisson when by standing 
at his post he can save the lives of his fellow-workmen. Another 
is an immense, appalling, and immeasurable misfortune, like 
the disaster which overwhelmed the city of the Golden Gate. 
Still another is war, wdiere the existence of our country is at 
stake. Mr. James F. Muirhead, writing from and of England 
after six months of war, in a letter to the New York Nation said: 
^^Some natures appear to require an enormously strong stimulus 
to evoke the full dynamic force of their potential energy. It seems 
as if this great struggle had the power of converting cynical and 
self-indulgent young men who might otherwise have come to 
little good into centers and leaders of responsibility.” 

Students of criminal psychology have coined the term moral 
imbecile to designate one who is totally devoid of moral sensi- 
bility, who feels no repugnance at the suggestion of crime before 
the deed and no remorse after its commission. The depths to 
which human nature can sink arc not always realized by the 
smug members of a respectable community. Here, for example, 
is a young man who killed his father in order to rob him, and not 
finding the money, thrust his mother's feet into the fire to force 
her to tell that of which she was ignorant.® What were the feelings 
of this particular monster after his crime we are not informed; 
but we do know a great deal about the reactions toward wrong 
of the class of beings to which he belonged. One of the greatest 
students of criminals that ever lived was the Russian novelist 
Dostoevsky. This supreme analyst of the human heart, after 
spending three years in a Siberian prison, has the following to 
say about his fellow-prisoners, most of whom were murderers. 

''In the course of several years I never saw one sign of repentance 
among these people, not a trace of despondent brooding over their 
crime. . . On the other hand, who can say that he has sounded the 
depths of these lost hearts, and has read in them what is hidden from 

•Ehivelock Ellis, The Criminal, 4th Edition, Ch. IV, p. 147. 



72 


ETHICS 


all the world? Yet surely it would have been possible during all these 
years to have noticed, to have detected something, to have caught some 
glimpse which would have borne witness to some inner anguish and 
suffering in those hearts. But it was not there, it certainly was not 
there. . . I have heard stories of the most terrible, the most unnatural 
actions, of the most monstrous murders told with the most spontaneous, 
childishly merry laughter.”’ 

Yet it is a fair question whether a being in the semblance of 
a man has ever lived who completely met the terms of the above 
definition. He may never repent his own particular crimes; he 
may not care enough about the matter even to attempt to justify 
them. But always, or in any event almost always, there is some- 
thing he will not do; and what is more, there is something he 
will do. 

"A man by the name of Schunicht murdered one of his former mis- 
tresses in the most brutal manner and with an indifference absolutely 
revolting. He had already left the apartment when it occurred to him 
that the body might remain undiscovered for weeks, and in that event 
the canary belonging to the murdered woman would starve to death. 
Thereupon Schunicht retraced his steps, scattered enough food upon 
the floor of the cage to last the bird for several days, and opened the 
cage door and the window in the adjoining room so that in any event 
the bird could make its escape.”* 

In returning to the apartment where lay the dead body of the 
murdered woman, this brutal criminal risked his life in order to 
save from starvation a canary. Dostoevsky in his somber, mag- 
nificent book writes: 

‘Tn the midst of these utterly uneducated and down-trodden sufferers, 
I have come across instances of the greatest spiritual refinement. Some- 
times one would know a man in prison for years and despise him and 

^The House of the Dead, Ch. I, p. 13; c/., pp. 54, 177. The conception 
of moral imbecility we owe to Despine, Psychologic Naturelle, 1868, 3 vols. 
The first volume, dealing with psychology in general, may be omitted 
with advantage. His remarkable study of cases coming before the Paris 
police courts begins with Vol. II. A brief but excellent survey of this 
subject is supplied by Havelock Ellis, The Criminal, Ch. IV, sec. 1. The 
reader should be warned that the anatomical theories presented in Ch. Ill 
have now been abandoned by most students of the subject. 

*Lombro8o, UUomo Delinquente; quoted from the German translation 
entitled Der Verhrecher, Vol. I, p. 318. 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 73 

think he was not a human being but a brute. And suddenly a moment 
will come by chance when his soul suddenly reveals itself in an in- 
voluntary outburst, and you see in it such wealth, such feeling, such' 
heart, such a vivid understanding of its owm suffering and of the 
suffering of others that your eyes are opened and for the moment 
you can not believe what you have seen and heard yourself.” * 

Men unquestionably differ enormously in their moral make-up. 
But in all but a very small number, most of whom are certainly, 
and all of whom may possibly be subnormal intellectually, the 
capacity for sacrifice appears to exist, whether in its latent or its 
active form. 

The Denials of the Existence of Altruism: (1) The Argu- 
ment FROM THE Effects of Praise and Blame 

All of these things are open to the light of day. But many of 
them, especially if each is taken singly and considered by itself, 
can perhaps be explained away as the result of the hunger for 
praise or the fear of blame, and thus as done, after all, from a 
selfish motive. The whole mass of it, in its totality, however, 
can not be so explained. For praise and blame could never come 
into existence in a world consisting solely of pure egoists. To be 
sure, since there is probably no such thing as a completely selfish 
man we can not tell precisely what this kind of a being would do. 
But those who represent the closest approach to this state do 
not blame others who, in the pursuit of their personal interests, 
injure them; any more than they admire those who sacrifice 
themselves for their benefit. The latter statement was illustrated 
above, on page 69. The truth of the former appears from the 
following account by Dostoevsky of the attitude of his Siberian 
fellow-prisoners toward informers. These despicable creatures 
tattled to the prison authorities about petty breaches of regula- 
tions on the part of their fellow-prisoners, for which service they 
received some trifling reward. Their victims were punished with 
the whip, recovery from the effects of which usually meant a week 
of agony in the hospital. 


Op . cii.f p. 240. 



74 


ETHICS 


''Generally speaking informers are well treated and even liked in a 
convict prison. Nobody thinks any the worse of them for reporting to 
the governor what is going on in the prison. And if you try to explain 
to a convict why an informer ought to be shunned as a dangerous and 
dishonorable person he would not understand you.” “ 

The explanation of this apparent paradox is not far to seek. 
It is given in the following account of the discovery of a “salted 
mine'" in a Nevada mining camp. 

"Once more the multitude had been duped and fleeced. Once more 
the few emerged gorged with iniquitous gains. But though curses loud 
and deep were showered upon the heads of the successful swindlers, they 
lost no caste by what they had done. How could they indeed, when 
every man felt in his heart that he would have played the same game 
fz. e. would have played it without self-reproach] had he held the same 
cards?”” 

You may be angry at a man who cheats you, as you may at 
an opponent in a boxing match who punches you on the nose; 
but if you are a thoroughgoing egoist, like most of Dostoevsky’s 
fellow-prisoners and, apparently, the Nevada miners, he will not 
sink in your estimation, any more than you would sink in your 
own estimation if you yourself were doing the cheating. 

In a society, therefore, consisting exclusively of complete 
egoists praise and blame would not exist. If they did, who would 
sacrifice pleasure or undergo pain in order to obtain them? Would 
not everyone know from self-observation that they were simply 
a device employed to squeeze out of him, for the benefit of an- 
other, actions which otherwise he would have no sufficient motive 
for performing? You can pass a counterfeit coin w^here there are 
only a few such coins in circulation. But how can you conceive 
of a coinage consisting of nothing but counterfeits? 

The Denial of the Existence of Altruism: (2) The Argu- 
ment FROM THE Nature of Desire 

If one attack fails perhaps another may have better luck. The 
man we call altruistic commonly derives a certain satisfaction 
from helping others, and feels uneasy and dissatisfied when he 
injures them or leaves them in the lurch; what more obvious than 

” Op. cit.f Part I, Chapter III. 

”G. F. Parsons, in the Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 60, p. 159. 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 75 

the suggestion that it is the attainment of this satisfaction or the 
avoidance of this dissatisfaction which supplies the motive of his 
action? 

Abraham Lincoln (in reality one of the most altruistic of men) 
once expressed this theory of the will in the course of a famous 
incident, one version of which reads as follows: 

“Mr. Lincoln once remarked to a fellow-passenger on an old-time 
mud-coach that all men were prompted by selfishness in doing good. 
His fellow-passenger was antagonizing this position when they were 
passing over a corduroy bridge that spanned a slough. As they crossed 
this bridge they espied an old razor-backed sow on the bank making a 
terrible noise because her pigs had got into the slough and were in 
danger of drowning. As the old coach began to climb the hill, Mr. Lincoln 
called out, 'Driver, can’t you stop just a moment?’ Then Mr. Lincoln 
jumped out, ran back, and lifted the little pigs out of the mud and 
water and placed them on the bank. When he returned, his companion 
remarked: 'Now, Abe, where does selfishness come in on this little 
episode?* 'Why, bless your soul, Ed, that was the very essence of 
selfishness. I should have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on 
and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs. I did it to get 
peace of mind, don’t you see?’ ”” 

The fallacy of this explanation, however, is very easy to ex- 
pose. The attainment of every desire, of whatever sort, tends to 
arouse a feeling of satisfaction. There is, for example, the desire 
to know certain facts, whether these refer to the size of the great 
star Betelgeuze in the constellation of Orion, or the status of the 
young man who calls so assiduously on the girl next door. When 
the knowledge comes, satisfaction is normally felt. But the rise 
into consciousness of this satisfaction is due to the existence of 
the desire; and the object of the desire, therefore, was not the 
satisfaction, but the satisfaction was rather the consequence of 
the preexisting desire. This statement of course holds equally for 
dissatisfaction, from its weakest form as a vague feeling of un- 
easiness to its most massive and intense manifestations as sorrow 
or grief. Each is the sign of an aversion from a state of things 
which now is, or which is expected to come into existence. If 
there had been no such aversion there would have been no 
feeling.'* 

“Quoted from the Springfield (111.) Monitor in the Outlook, Vol. 66, 
p. 1059. 

“C/. James, Principles of Psychology, Vol. II, pp. 555-558. 



76 


ETHICS 


All this applies to altruism. As with all other desires, attain- 
ment brings, or tends to bring satisfaction or joy; failure nor- 
mally brings dissatisfaction, and in extreme cases sorrow. But 
the satisfaction could never have been obtained, dissatisfaction 
would never have come, if the desire for the realization of the 
other personas welfare had not been there in the first place. 
Therefore when a man^s peace of mind is interfered with by the 
sufferings of another he must have at least some amount, whether 
great or small, of direct desire for their good and aversion from 
their harm. 

It is possible for people possessed of only a small measure of 
altruism so to manipulate their altruistic desires as to use them 
as a means for the promotion of personal pleasure. They may 
carefully avoid scenes likely to call for any large amount of 
sacrifice; and when fairly caught, so that escape is out of the 
question, they may meet the situation by turning the attention in 
another direction; like the man who always rode in the street 
car with his eyes closed, because he could not bear to see ladies 
standing when he had a seat. But this is no more than we can 
do with our egoistic desires. The man who is without deep, long- 
sighted egoism, who is possessed of no capacity to adopt as an 
end of action a good for himself somewhat remote in time, may 
handle his desires for personal good with strict reference to the 
interests of that immediate future which we commonly call the 
present. A spendthrift, for example, may be driven by his fears 
into giving a moment^s attention to his ebbing assets. But when 
the thought of the impending crash becomes quite unendurable 
he may drive it from his mind by rushing into a new debauch. 
The fact that we may use our altruistic endowment for the sake 
of our own “present” pleasure no more proves its non-existence 
than the fact that we may do precisely the same thing with our 
desire for the welfare of our next year's self proves that no such 
thing exists as regard for our more remote personal future. 

The Denial op the Existence op Altruism: (3) The Argu- 
ment FROM Natural Selection 

The notion that a desire can be aroused by the prospect of its 
own satisfaction supplied for generations a stumbling-block in 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 77 

the way of the recognition of the existence of altruism. Another 
made its appearance upon the publication of Darwin’s Origin of 
Species in 1859. According to the theory there presented man is 
a descendant of the lower animals and has reached his present 
position in the world of nature through the survival of the fittest 
in the struggle for existence. The meaning of these terms is stated 
by Professor Romanes as follows: 

“It is a matter of observable fact that all plants and animals are 
perpetually engaged in what Darwin calls a ‘struggle for existence.' 
That is to say, in every generation of every species a great many more 
individuals are born than can possibly survive; so that there is in 
consequence a perpetual battle for life going on among all the con- 
stituent individuals of any given generation. Now, in this struggle for 
existence, which individuals will be victorious and live? Assuredly those 
which are best fitted to live, in whatever respect, or respects, their 
superiority or fitness may consist. Hence it follows that Nature, so to 
speak, selects the best individuals out of each generation to live. And 
not only so; but as these favored individuals transmit their favorable 
qualities to their offspring according to the fixed laws of heredity, it 
further follows that the individuals composing each successive genera- 
tion have a general tendency to be better suited to their surroundings 
than were their forefathers. And this follows, not merely because in 
every generation it is only the ‘flower of the flock' that is allowed 
to breed, but also because if in any generation some new and beneficial 
qualities happen to arise as slight variations from the ancestral type 
they will (other things permitting) be seized upon by natural selection, 
and, being transmitted by heredity to subsequent generations, will be 
added to the previously existing type. Thus the best idea of the whole 
process will be gained by comparing it with the closely analogous 
process whereby gardeners, fanciers, and cattle-breeders create their 
w^onderful productions; for just as these men, by always * selecting*' 
their best individuals to breed from, slowly but continuously improve 
their stock, so Nature, by a similar process of ‘selection,’ slowly but 
continuously makes the various species of plants and animals better 
and better suited to the conditions of their life."** 

From this theory it has been inferred by some that the struggle 
for existence in the animal world consists in the war of each 
against all; that this must hold for man as well as for every other 
animal ; and that accordingly there can be no place for any other 
element than ruthless egoism in a creature so born, so nurtured, 
and so environed. 

As a matter of fact, however, as Darwin himself takes great 
Darwin and After Darwin, Vol. I, p. 259. See the entire chapter (VII). 



78 


ETHICS 


pains to show, the struggle for existence includes as one of its 
vital factors the struggle for the existence of other members of 
the same group. This holds generally among animals with the 
exception of the lowest; parental care extending down the scale 
of animal life as far as the molluscs, though it is not universal 
until the higher forms are reached. Among birds and mammals 
we find, in addition to the care of offspring, active assistance of 
other members of the same flock or herd. It is true that much of 
this care is mere blind instinct, and thus has no more moral value 
than sneezing. But it is prophetic of what we may expect to 
find in man, since, in the main, the fundamental instincts of ani- 
mals arc replaced in the human world by corresponding modes 
of voluntary action. This is emphatically the case with the 
struggle for the life and well-being of others. Huxley writes: 
^Tor his successful progress as far as the savage state man has 
been largely indebted to those qualities which he shares with the 
ape and the tiger.^’ Omit ^*as far as the savage state,” and for 
“largely,” read “exclusively” and we have the position of those 
who think universal war the fundamental characteristic of the 
evolutionary process. 

Such a view, however, is false. It overlooks the fact that 
parental care, with the sacrifices it involves, is an indispensable 
factor in the preservation of the life of the human race. It over- 
looks the fact also that in the w^ars between tribe and tribe which 
are a common, though not a universal feature of primitive society, 
wars in which the vanquished peoples are not infrequently totally 
destroyed, the tribe that conquers is apt to be the one that is 
most firmly bound together by loyalty to the chief, tribal patri- 
otism, courage, and the spirit of self-sacrifice, and the one least 
cut into pieces by feuds due to murder and theft as between fel- 
low-tribesmen. It fails to see that in the hard conditions of nat- 
ural environment in which many primitive people have lived 
in the past, including the ancestors of the modern European 
nations, and in which many still live today, an environment in 
which life is constantly being threatened by wild beasts, by 
famine, and by other enemies, only those peoples who are will- 
ing to help each other when in danger or need could ever maintain 
their existence through a long series of centuries. Finally, it mis- 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 79 

reads completely the character of the social relationships which 
actually obtain among very many, probably most primitive peo- 
ples. For in strict conformity with the preceding facts those 
writers who really know primitive man at first hand, unite 
in testifying that, in the main, relationships between mem- 
bers of the same tribe represent on the whole as high a stage Of 
conduct as that which obtains on the average among ourselves; 
sometimes, indeed, a distinctly higher stage. This latter state- 
ment holds, among others, for most of the American Indians who 
once occupied the forests and prairies of the United States. Take, 
for instance, the following authoritative account of the character 
of the Iroquois by Lewis Morgan. 

“If [the Iroquois] has never contributed a page to science nor a dis- 
covery to art . . . still there are certain qualities of his mind which 
shine forth in all the lustre of natural perfection. His simi)le integrity, 
his generosity, his unbounded hospitality, his love of truth, and above 
all, his unshaken fidelity — a sentiment inborn and standing out so con- 
spicuously in his character that it has not untruthfully become [recog- 
nized as its characteristic feature] : all these are adornments of humanity 
which no art of education can instil nor refinement of civilization can 
bestow.” 

Hospitality, he further informs us, was exercised on such a 
scale among them that ^^hunger and destitution were unknown. . . 
Crime and offences were so infrequent that the Iroquois can 
scarcely be said to have had a criminal code.” 

Voluntary Actions Can Not Be Divided Exhaustively Into 
Egoistic and Altruistic 

It must not be supposed that all the actions of human beings 
can be divided into two separate classes which may be labeled, 
respectively, egoistic and altruistic. In the first place, there is a 
great body of involuntary actions. Egoistic and altruistic actions 
are performed with an end in view. The essence of an involun- 
tary action on the other hand is that it is not performed with a 
view of bringing into existence a “state of things” of any kind 

^League of the Iroquois, Edition of 1904, Vol. I, pp. 133, 319, 321. Cf. 
Catlin, The North American Indians, 10th Edition, 1866, Vol. I, p. 122; 
Vol. II, pp. 241-252. 



80 


ETHICS 


whatever. But it can not even be affirmed that all voluntary 
actions are either egoistic or altruistic. Actions motivated by the 
desire for harm are neither. The same is true of what may be 
called “unreflective desires.'^ These, as will be shown later, are 
actions which are determined by the idea of a certain state of 
things, but in which we have not asked ourselves whether the 
attainment of this end will be a good at the time, or help to bring 
into existence a more remote good, whether for self or others ; or, 
in which, if this question is asked, and a negative answer is given, 
we go ahead and act just the same merely because we feel im- 
pelled to do so. On the other hand, many voluntary actions, such 
as the support of one^s family, the performance of the duties of 
citizenship, and countless others, are both altruistic and egoistic. 
Nor can we, even if we should wish to do so, determine just what 
proportion of egoism and altruism they contain. 

II 

The Stimulants of Altruism 

We turn from our discussion of the nature and existence of 
altruism to an examination of the conditions which determine 
the strength of its manifestations. A correct view of the facts will 
prove to be of very great importance in the work which lies 
before us. 

Our desire to serve and our aversion from harming others are 
profoundly affected by our capacity to realize what the service 
or harm means to the recipient. The mental power which brings 
home to us these alien experiences and enables us to appreciate 
their significance may be called the imagination. It is intimately 
associated but is not identical with the ability to visualize, that is, 
to call up in vivid and relatively complete form before the 
''mind^s eye” the scenes and incidents that have previously im- 
pressed themselves upon the outer eye. 

The power to realize is very unevenly distributed among human 
beings; but in everyone its effectiveness is greatly increased by 
certain external conditions. Thus we can realize best the feelings 
of those whose face we see and whose words we hear. *Tf we all 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 81 

ate at the same table,” writes Robert Louis Stevenson, “no one 
would be allowed to go hungry.” A municipal judge in Detroit 
has the habit of taking a group of convicted offenders against 
the speed regulations to the receiving hospital and the morgue 
to which are sent the victims of the speed craze. Such a visit 
would, for many men, be a far more effective deterrent than a 
jail sentence. Again, detailed and life-like descriptions of human 
actions and feelings have a strong tendency to awaken or 
strengthen altruism because they supply the imagination with 
abundant materials upon which to work. The people of the 
LFnited States, for example, were not very much disturbed about 
the suffering in the concentration camps in the Spanish -Cuban 
War till Richard Harding Davis, Senator Proctor, and others 
went to Cuba and brought back vivid word pictures as well as 
a large number of actual photographs of the horrors which they 
had witnessed. Then we all woke up. 

It is because of the influence of the imagination, again, that 
we are far more concerned about the good or evil which comes 
to others when it is identical in kind with some experience of our 
own in the past. It carries a greater appeal, because we can 
realize it better; that is, picture it more effectively in the imagi- 
nation. “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” 

A force even more effective than the imagination in awakening 
and strengthening altruism is love. Unfortunately for the progress 
of both psychology and ethics love has been treated by many 
writers as altogether identical with altruism. This view, however, 
is far from representing the truth. The word love is unhappily 
very ambiguous, but I shall use it as essentially identical with 
what the psychologists call the “emotion of tenderness.” It is, I 
believe, easy to show that love, thus defined, and altruism are 
in their own nature very different things. Love is an emotion; 
altruism, a desire. The desires which love immediately arouses 
include that for the presence of the beloved. This desire, in itself, 
may be as selfish as any other. A young man who was graduating 
from a medical school wished to spend one or two years at a 
certain great European university where his uncle occupied a 
distinguished position as professor in the medical faculty. There 



82 


ETHICS 


seemed to be no obstacles in the way, for the student was neither 
too young nor too old, he was both gifted and diligent, and there 
was plenty of money for the supply of his needs. In the end, 
however, he did not go. The reason assigned by his mother (who 
ruled the family) was that she loved him too much to let him 
go away from her for so long a time. Thus love may exist without 
enough altruism, at any rate, to lead the lover to sacrifice his 
own pleasure in loving for the sake of the beloved. 

Similarly there may be altruism without love. For example, a 
man sacrifices his life for someone he never saw before; or a 
man, like Dr. Reed^s volunteers for the yellow fever experiments, 
risks suffering and death for the sake of humanity. 

The true relationship between love and altruism is that the 
former acts as a stimulant to the latter. Of all such agencies it 
is by far the most powerful. But it does not always work even 
when as emotion it is both massive and intense. This is because 
there is little or no altruism for it to work on. But whether it 
works or not, it and altruism are two perfectly distinct things 

Somewhat akin in nature to love is the sense of congeniality, 
what Professor Giddings has called the “consciousness of kind.” 
By this is meant the feeling of unity which arises from the exist- 
ence of community of tastes, interests, points of view, etc. Said 
Samuel Johnson to Boswell: “Sir, I was once in company with 
[Adam] Smith. We did not take to each other; but had I known 
that he loved rhyme [in preference to blank verse] as much as 
you tell me he does, I should have hugged him.” In this incident 
we see the discovery of identity of interest producing a feeling 
much akin to tender emotion. But tender emotion, as we have 
seen, is one of the most powerful stimulants of altruism. 

Effects similar to those due to “consciousness of kind” may 
be produced by the belief in blood relationship. One of the most 
corrupt politicians in the United States, now dead, the repre- 
sentative in the Senate of a great state, was one of the most 
devoted and one of the wisest friends the American Indians ever 
had. It is said that he would leave the most important personal 
business when he heard that their interests were in danger, and 
drop all other affairs, however pressing, to protect their rights. 

**Bosweira Lt/e of Johnson, Hiirs Edition, Vol. I, p. 495. 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 83 

The initial cause of all this solicitude seems to have been the be- 
lief that he had a teaspoonful of Indian blood in his veins. 

There is a group of emotions intimately associated with love 
but by no means identical with it that are capable of stimulating 
tremendously our interest in the good of their object. They arc 
gratitude, approbation, and admiration. We like to see those 
whom we admire happy, and are far more ready to make sacri- 
fices for their sake than for those whose mental or moral endow- 
ment seems to us mediocre or worse. 

The last factor which I shall mention is perhaps the equal in 
importance of any of the others. It is the awareness of a causal 
relationship between an act of mine and the state of another 
person — that relationship which in many cases we call personal 
responsibility. The injury that I have inflicted or am considering 
inflicting impresses my imagination more forcibly than do others; 
or if not that, at any rate has a special power of awakening con- 
cern for the actual or potential victim. But it should be particu- 
larly observed that this influence is not confined to situations 
for which I can regard myself as morally responsible. A lady who 
w’as riding in a hired automobile which was being driven at a 
moderate rate with due care by a trusted chaufTcur was almost 
as deeply shocked when it ran over and seriously injured a child 
as if the incident had been due to some carelessness of her own. 
She knew perfectly well that the fault, if fault there can be said 
to have been, was that of the child. Yet it was she who had or- 
dered the car and sent it down that particular street. This fact 
made her feelings very different from those of the other wit- 
nesses, who really saw more of the actual horror than she did. 

Nature has so made the human mind that altruism can act 
and often produce great results vrithout any stimulation what- 
ever. It has also made altruism in such a way that it is sensitive 
to a wide range of stimulants which arc capable of increasing its 
effectiveness enormously. This varying susceptibility to what is, 
w'hen looked at objectively, the same appeal affords an explana- 
tion of many of the surprising inconsistencies of human conduct. 
It supplies the key, moreover, to an understanding of the super- 
ficial diversities and the fundamental unity of the moral judg- 
ments of the race. 



84 


ETHICS 


The Depbessakts of Altbxjism 

This part of our subject would not be complete without the 
recognition of the existence, by the side of these stimulants, of a 
series of agents that operate to depress altruism. There are, of 
course, the emotions of hatred, disapprobation, disadmiration, 
and resentment. In addition to these there is another set of 
forces, among which the most important are familiarity, inatten- 
tion, and fatigue, including under the last the exhausting effects 
of disease. Everyone is more or less acquainted with the effects 
of familiarity with the sight of suffering, especially when we do 
nothing to relieve it, in blunting our sensitiveness. Thus the 
author of Seven Years at Eton relates how when he first saw a 
boy flogged at school he was shaken emotionally through and 
through. But his eyes and nerves soon became accustomed to 
the sight and later he came to witness it with actual amusement. 

Why Is There More Egoism Than Altruism? 

The recognition of the part played in our lives by these stimu- 
lants and depressants enables us to explain certain facts which 
appear to present difiiculties to the acceptance of our doctrine 
of benevolence. If egoism and altruism are but two different di- 
rections of the same force, why, it may be asked, is there so 
much more egoistic action in the world than altruistic? 

The answer turns on the cumulative effects of a number of 
well-known psychological forces. Of these the first in importance 
is the imagination. Of the many spurs to benevolence this is 
undoubtedly the most powerful, always excepting the influence 
of love upon altruism. The effect of any imagined state upon 
the will tends, as we have seen, to be in direct ratio to the con- 
creteness and completeness (within certain limits) with which 
it is pictured. Now I can usually imagine my own future more 
effectively than the present or future state of another, simply 
because there are more data at the disposal of the imagination 
in one case than in the other. Suppose, for example, I am consid- 
ering the purchase of a hundred-dollar rug. I am, of course, well 
aware that I might spend that money in helping to feed the 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 85 

starving in the war-ravaged districts of China. But I know pre- 
cisely how my room looks now with that horrible bare space 
in the floor; I can easily imagine precisely how it will look covered 
with a handsome rug, especially if I have seen the rug in a shop 
window; whereas the sufferings of the Chinese — well, I have never 
starved to death. 

It follows from the preceding that altruism requires, on the 
average, a broader range of experience and a more highly de- 
veloped power of imagining than does egoism. Consequently the 
child is apt to be distinctly more egoistic than altruistic. There- 
upon enters a second factor, that of habit. The child begins by 
thinking of his own interests, and the more they occupy the mind 
the more they tend to occupy it. Thoughtlessness makes a large 
part of our indifference to others; and thoughtlessness is nothing 
more nor less than the habit of thinking so much about our own 
interests that those of others are either completely pushed aside, 
or are presented only in a hasty, vague, sketchy fashion. In the 
grip of these habits almost every human being grows to maturity. 

The conditions of social existence reinforce these influences. 
They involve a struggle for personal ends, and thus narrow still 
farther the range of facts with which the imagination may build, 
organize, and fortify its habits of thought. In this struggle altru- 
istic interests often die of mere inanition; there is no time for 
the exercise that is necessary in order to keep them alive. Often 
again they perish through the direct attack of such emotions 
as resentment, envy, or disappointment, which the struggle of 
life so frequently engenders. These feelings may kill our interest 
not merely in him who has injured us, but in others also. Bitter- 
ness of spirit has carried many a man far along the road which 
was traveled to the end by the murderer in Macbeth: 

am one, my liege, 

Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world 
Have so incensed that I am reckless what 
I do to spite the world.” 

Thus there grows up a society of narrow interests and low 
ideals. The more generously constituted nature might often rise 

” Macbeth, Act III, Scene I, U. 108-111. 



ETHICS 


86 

above them if it were not for another tendency of the human 
will, that of imitation. This is the name not of a simple force, 
but of a congeries of forces. But whatever the exact mechanism 
of the process, it tends to keep the level of altruism up but also 
down to the level of that which prevails in the community. 

Our confidence in the soundness of these explanations may 
be fortified by the fact that they include within their scope a 
large number of collateral phenomena which otherwise must re- 
main unpenetrated mysteries. Thus they show why the average 
man is so much more interested in the self of tomorrow than in 
that of twenty years hence; why he is more interested in those 
persons with whom he has come into direct contact (quite apart 
from love, the sense of congeniality, and all feelings of this sort) 
than in those persons whom he has never seen; in those whose 
experiences have in the main been like his own as compared with 
those whose manner of life, place of abode, and intellectual or 
moral qualities separate them from him as inhabitants of a 
different world. All these phenomena and many more find their 
place as parts of one self-consistent whole when interpreted as 
the consequences of the above principles. 

This reference to the role of the imagination, however, may 
seem to raise a new diflSculty more formidable than the first. If 
the imagination had so much to do with the bringing into exist- 
ence of both altruistic and egoistic actions, why are not the most 
egoistic persons likewise the most altruistic? 

The first answer to this question is that demonstrably the 
least altruistic, at any rate, are the least egoistic; that is to say, 
they have the least interest in their own remote future. The 
students of criminal psychology, as we have seen, distinguish a 
certain class of criminals as “moral imbeciles.” These creatures 
possess so little regard for the victims of their crimes that they 
feel not the slightest stirring of regret or remorse at the robbery 
or the murder which is the work of their hands. Now one of the 
most striking characteristics of these men, according to the con- 
current testimony of all the authorities, is precisely their indif- 
ference to whatever may happen to themselves at the distance of 
a very few days. They have been known to enter upon a career 
of robbery united with murder, which, as they admitted, they 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 87 

knew at the time must lead to their own death, and that shortly, 
in order to get money for a week’s unstinted and unrestrained 
debauchery. They listen to the reading of their sentence with 
indifference and contemplate the approaching execution with 
composure. Thus they preserve the mind of the Stoic sage until 
perhaps twenty-four hours before the end. Then realization 
begins, the horror of black death awakens in their sluggish souls, 
and they may have to be literally dragged from their cell to the 
place of execution. 

It is my opinion that the same relationship will be found to 
obtain at the upper end of the scale. The man who is excep- 
tionally altruistic will be precisely the man who most frequently 
subordinates present interests to remote or permanent ends. 
With perhaps a greater number of exceptions, the converse, I 
think, is also true. 

The first answer to the diflSculty urged above is, thus, that it 
does not exist. If when you are speaking of egoism you are think- 
ing of a long-range egoism, then this is the kind of egoism that 
is most completely correlated with altruism. It is the relatively 
unimaginative egoism of the slave of today that is never found 
dwelling in the same mind with tlic altruistic spirit. 

Where this is not the case, where the capacity for long-range 
egoism is found with no corresponding development of the altru- 
istic interests, the results, I think, must be attributed to the influ- 
ence of the factors enumerated above. The external conditions of 
the man’s life in his childhood or youth started habits of thought 
in one direction which grew at the expense of the more generous 
impulses; w’hile the growth of these latter was farther stunted 
by such forces as imitation, fear, hatred, and bitterness of spirit, 
stimulated to activity, in many cases, by unfortunate experiences. 

Altruism Not a Miracle 

There has been a certain tendency even among those who 
believe in the existence of altruism to regard it as a kind of 
miracle. ‘^Altruism,” says von Ihering in Dcr Zweek im Recht, 
‘‘is as wonderful as if water should run up hill.” It may be re- 
marked in passing that if water did not run up hill it would 



88 


ETHICS 


certainly not long continue to run down; while no one can seri- 
ously maintain that the laws of evaporation are more wonderful 
than those of gravitation. Von Ihering^s argument seems to be 
somewhat as follows: Altruism is less primitive or less common 
than egoism. Therefore it is a “miracle.” It seems hardly neces- 
sary to say that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. 
The instinct of walking follows that of winking by a number 
of months in the development of the child, but this does not 
constitute walking a miracle. Furthermore, the premises them- 
selves are largely a fiction. Egoism, as we have defined it, is no 
more primitive in the child's mind than is altruism. It is true 
of him in his second and third years, as Spencer and Gillen say 
of the Australian savage, that he obeys literally the command 
of the gospel: “Take no thought for the morrow.” His voluntary 
acts are determined chiefiy by unreflective impulse and by desire 
for a good immediately in front of his eyes; and where this is 
not the case the range of his effective vision scarcely extends 
beyond the setting sun. Offer the average three-year-old child 
a choice between one piece of candy now and two pieces tomor- 
row, and see which he will take. Yet this same child may be 
willing to divide today’s candy with his mother. A seven-year-old 
boy of my acquaintance could not be moved by any argument or 
other form of pressure to devote even the shortest portion of his 
precious time to earning money as such, though he understood 
perfectly the function of money as an instrument of future satis- 
faction. But for a couple of weeks in December he worked with 
exemplary assiduity to earn money with which to buy his mother 
a Christmas present. The concrete good of his mother appealed 
to him more strongly than the abstract good of self. If we must 
have a general principle, the nearest we can come to it is this: 
The more completely and vividly the absent state is realized the 
greater is its power to arouse the will. This, it will be observed, is 
not formulated and can not be formulated directly in terms of 
self and others. And even this principle, as we have seen, is 
limited in its working by a number of others.* 

“On walking in young children as an instinct, sec James, Principles of 
Psychology, Vol. II, pp. 405-407; Baldwin, in Science, 1892, p. 15; Wood- 
worth, Psychology, pp. 95-07. 

♦ See Notes, V, “Sympathy and Altruism,” p. 493. 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 89 


III 

The Desire to Harm 

Side by side with the desire for the good of self and others there 
may exist the desire for their harm. In some degenerates it takes 
the form of a delight in malicious cruelty which is never at rest 
except as it is hunting down some victim.^* Something of this 
spirit seems to be present in young children, as is shown by their 
delight in malicious mischief. 

In the average adult it is aroused chiefly by hatred and anger; 
this intimately related pair thus having an effect upon the desire 
to harm which is analogous to that of the other allied pair, love 
and gratitude, upon the desire to serve. We must particularly 
note that anger is not necessarily the consequence of the belief 
that one has been wronged. In the first place, whereas everyone 
admits in principle that morality is a matter of motives, most 
persons grow thoroughly angry at an attempt to injure them 
only when it succeeds. The attempt to cheat me, for example, 
produces in me a certain amount of indignation, whether it is 
successful or not; but let the same attempt result in the loss of a 
considerable sum of money and my wrath is likely to be intensi- 
fied many fold. Again, an act of stupidity or inadvertence which 
does serious injury, especially when I myself am the victim, has 
almost as great a tendency to arouse anger in me as does an 
intended wrong. For resentment, as Westermarck points out, is 
^^an aggressive attitude of mind towards a cause of pain.”*® 
Furthermore, purely accidental injuries of which I am the vic- 
tim, which are due neither to wrong intentions, nor carelessness, 
nor stupidity, have a tendency to arouse the same feelings against 
the person who happens to be the last link in the chain of causa- 
tion. Indeed anger may blaze forth against a man whose connec- 
tion with the injury is wholly external, as Shakespeare's Cleo- 
patra beats the messenger who brings her the information that 
Antony has married Octavia,*^ 

"See J. A. Symonds, The Age of the Despots, Appendix, '*The Blood 
Madness of the Italian Despots.” Compare also Dostoevsky, The House 
of the Dead, '^Akulka’s Husband,” Part II, Ch. IV. 

* The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, Vol. I, p. 22. 

“ Antony and Cleopatra, Act. II, Scene V. 



90 


ETHICS 


The irritation due to physical pain, and for that matter suffer- 
ing of any kind, may be visited upon living beings who are not 
even connected with it in any way whatever, simply because they 
happen to be there to serve as victims. once found a stage 
driver whipping his horses,’* writes Francis Lieber in his Political 
Ethics, ^Tar more than seemed to be warranted by a fair desire 
to get on rapidly. When I expressed my opinion of his cruelty 
he answered, ^Oh, Sir, if you knew how my teeth ache!’ ” Usually, 
however, anger is more discriminating. But many persons, when 
they can not lay their hands upon the original source of injury, 
find a large satisfaction in injuring other members of the same 
class or group. 

''Ward, in his Law of Nations, narrates the case, in 1292. of two 
sailors, the one Norman, the other English, who quarreled in the port of 
Bayonne and began to fight with their fists. The Englishman stabbed 
the other with his knife; and the local magistrate having failed to take 
cognizance of the case, the Normans applied to their king who told 
them to take their own revenge. They instantly put to sea and seized 
the first English ship they could find and hung up several of the crew 
and some dogs at the same time at the masthead. The English retaliated 
without applying to their government, the final consequence being a 
war between the two countries.'' ” 

The object of one’s destructive wrath may sometimes be an 
inanimate object. Thus the five-year-old son of an acquaintance 
of mine in running at full speed from one room to another caught 
his finger in the crack of the door and hurt it badly. The instant 
he had received the necessary attention he rushed down into the 
cellar and returned with a hatchet with which he proposed to 
chop down the entire house. When this catastrophe was averted 
he insisted on at least chopping the offending door to pieces. 
Finally the father persuaded the boy that the accident was 
really his own fault because he hurt himself while doing that 
which he had been repeatedly warned not to do. Thereupon he 
became pacified. This sort of an outbreak is very far from being 
confined to children. A member of one of my classes witnessed the 
following incident. In a remote mining camp in Idaho a man was 

“John B. Moore, "The Peace Problem," North American Review, Vol. 

204, p. 84. 



EGOISM, ALTRUISM, AND DESIRE TO HARM 91 

working with the wick of a lamp which refused to move as 
smoothly as he desired. Finally he lost his patience and in a 
burst of anger threw the lamp out of the window, smashing it to 
pieces. In consequence he and his family (and guests) had noth- 
ing in the way of light but one poor candle for over a week. 
Anger at a man — who is perhaps doing his best to please us — 
may be taken out on the material object which is the result of 
his labor. The Russian composer Tschaikow^ky writes, as 
quoted in his biography. 

took up Victor Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea. I read and read, and grew 
more and more irritated by his grimaces and buffoonery. Finally, after a 
whole series of short, unmeaning phrases, consisting of exclamations, an- 
tithesis, and asterisks, I lost my temper, spat upon the book, tore it to 
pieces, stamped upon it, and wound up by throwing it out of the win- 
dow.*’ 

Some writers claim that in such cases as this we '^personify” 
the object of our wrath. But if ^'personify means to believe even 
for an instant that it is conscious, I can declare upon the testi- 
mony of many persons that a man may give a vicious kick to 
the door which slams in his face or curse a knotted fishline 
without supposing for a moment that the door or the fishlinc 
cares a particle wdiat he says or does. 

As w’e have already seen, the desire to inflict suffering may be 
directed against self as well as against others.^* It may be aroused 
not merely by moral delinquencies of which one is ashamed, but 
also by acts of stupidity, social gaucheries, fumbling a football at 
a critical point of a game, and many other mistakes where every 
effort was being made to do one's best. Probably most persons 
who are not eaten up by conceit and moral self-complacency 
have felt anger against self and with it the desire (as a woman 
once expressed it) ‘^to pound one's head against a stone wall." 

This desire to harm for no other reason than that the victim 
may suffer, whether the desire be or be not aroused or strength- 
ened by anger or any other stimulant whatever, may be called 
malevolence. We here use the term malevolence, as we did benev- 
olence, in the sense of a desire that may be directed against self as 
well as against others.* 

“Chapter II above, page 31. 

♦ See Notes, V, “The Existence of Malevolence,” p. 494. 



Chapter VI 

THE SOURCES OF MORAL JUDGMENTS 


Our study of the nature of benevolence and malevolence has pre- 
pared us to deal with the two fundamental and intimately re- 
lated problems, the sources of the moral judgments and the mean- 
ing of right. We shall begin with the former, which will supply 
the key for the solution of the latter. 

The sources of our moral judgments, I believe, will be found in 
benevolence and malevolence. The first gives rise to what in 
Chapter II was called the eudemonic judgment; the second, to 
the dysdemonic. The evidence for these assertions is now to be 
presented. 

The Source of the Dysdemonic Judgment 
It will be convenient to begin our study with an examination 
of the source of the dysdemonic judgment. We shall attempt to 
reach our objective through an examination of the conditions 
under which the lay conscience will regard a man as justly liable 
to punishment, and the conditions under which the amount of 
punishment considered to be due will rise or fall. In order to 
understand the significance of our data we must remember that 
there are several reasons why it is generally believed that punish- 
ment ought to be inflicted for wrong committed. Among them 
is the conviction that society ought to protect itself against crime 
by punishing him who commits it in order to deter other persons 
from doing the same thing. A second reason is the belief that he 
who has made another suffer ought to be made to suffer in return, 
regardless of whether society or any of its members profit by 
his punishment or not.^ The former, of course, is an instance of 
the employment of the eudemonic standard; the latter, of the 
dysdemonic. Both of these principles are accepted by the average 
layman, as is shown in an article by Professor Otto and the writer 
‘ C/. above, Chapter II, page 31, 

92 



THE SOURCES OF MORAL JUDGMENTS 93 

in the International Journal o] Ethics for July, 1910. But the 
second seems to have a stronger grip than the first, so that when, 
for whatever reason, the law of retaliation fails to appeal to 
them, most people show a tendency to think the wrong-doer ought 
not to be punished at all. 

Suppose, for example, that A and B commit precisely the same 
wrong. Under these conditions the layman may consider it en- 
tirely just that A should be punished, but very wrong that B 
should be punished. In such cases it will be found that, whereas 
his anger has been excited against A, his vindictive feelings 
against B have for some reason been softened or blotted out. It 
seems a fair inference that the judgment, A ought to be punished, 
has had its source, in this instance at least, in malevolence stimu- 
lated by anger. 

Examples of this mode of wwking on the part of the human 
mind lie all about us. The average man is quite capable of con- 
demning the infliction of punishment when the victim of the 
wrong is a total stranger, and demanding it when he happens to 
be an acquaintance, a friend, a member of his own family, or, 
above all, himself. He is equally capable of reversing his position 
and condemning the punishment of himself or a son or a friend 
or anyone with whom he happens to be able to sympathize, while 
demanding it without mercy for everyone else. He may advocate 
leniency for an act read about in the newspaper, and press for 
the utmost rigors of the law for this same act when he has hap- 
pened to see it himself. Or he may call for punishment only if 
it has taken place in the immediate past, while if a long period 
of time has elapsed between the deed and the discovery of the 
doer so that his feelings about it have had time to cool, he may 
approve ‘‘the beautiful Christian virtue of forgiveness.” Once 
more, his entire attitude towards the wrong-doer is apt to depend 
to a large extent upon the kaleidoscopic shifting of a lot of inner 
factors; upon whether he is hungry, for instance, or happens to 
have just dined comfortably; upon whether he has recently lost 
or gained ten thousand dollars in a business transaction; and 
much else of the same sort.* 

*See above, Chapter V, page 90, and below, Chapter VIII, page 136, 
note. 



94 


ETHICS 


It may be profitable to examine the facts somewhat more con- 
cretely. I shall take as an illustration the attitude of the Ameri- 
can public towards the punishment of women criminals. 

Fidelity companies in the United States are slow to insure the 
honesty of women. The reason is that the company's system is 
based upon ruthless prosecution of the dishonest, and they have 
great difficulty in securing the conviction of a woman by a jury. 
It is a matter of common knowledge that, at least in Illinois, and 
probably in other states where capital punishment obtains, it is 
practically impossible to convict a murderess, whatever the cir- 
cumstances of the crime. And according to the newspapers many 
veniremen in that state assert that they do not believe in capital 
punishment for women. This view seems to be general throughout 
the country. How it works in practice is shown by the notorious 
case of Mrs. Rogers of Vermont. 

In 1902 Mrs. Rogers, having driven her husband from his home 
by her quarrelsomeness, and having fallen violently in love with 
another man who refused to marry her as long as her husband 
lived, lured the latter back to his home on the pretense of a 
reconciliation and killed him in a manner which made the murder 
**one of the most revolting in New England’s criminal annals.” 
There was no doubt whatever about the guilt of the woman or 
the fairness of the trial. Yet her execution aroused such a storm 
of indignation against the governor of the state, because, though 
he reprieved her four times, he refused, in the end, to make a 
different law for women than for men, that his political life was 
seriously endangered. At the same time over a hundred men 
were being hanged every year in different parts of the United 
States, and the public was taking no particular interest in the 
fact. 

The explanation of these differences in attitude seems to be as 
follows. The sight or even the picture in the imagination of a 
woman in distress so moves the masculine heart that indignation 
against the murder of a disagreeable or tiresome husband is 
melted, and is replaced with the “soft stirrings of sympathy.” 
It is therefore felt that the unfortunate woman ought not to be 
punished, at least severely. The statute books, however, declare 
with cold impartiality that the person who commits theft or 



THE SOURCES OF MORAL JUDGMENTS 95 

murder shall be punished, without restricting this declaration 
to the male sex; so the gallant jury, although they may know 
perfectly well that she committed the crime, save the woman 
from punishment by finding her ‘^not guilty.” Thereupon the 
larger self-constituted jury outside the court room cry “Amen”; 
and if, by some chance, she is convicted regard her punishment 
as an outrage. I venture the guess that even the unimpressionable 
jurors from the Green Mountain State would have found some 
excuse for clearing Mrs. Rogers if certain details of the actual 
execution of the crime had not got very much on their nerves. 

In some respects the most striking evidence of the role played 
by anger in the demand for punishment is supplied by the 
influence of accident. To understand the significance of the 
following facts we must remember that resentment is “an aggres- 
sive attitude of mind towards a cause of pain.” It is not apt to 
be aroused to a very high pitch in the average person, as we 
have seen, when there has been wrongful intent without actual 
harm ; wdiereas it tends to blaze forth in all its fury when serious 
harm has been inflicted without intent during the commission 
of some minor wrong. Definite traces of this waxing and waning 
of emotional fervor can be found in the law, which is always, 
in the long run, a faithful reflection of public opinion. Thus there 
is ordinarily an enormous difference between the penalties im- 
posed for a successful and an unsuccessful attempt at homicide, 
although obviously the moral quality of the act remains the same 
whether the bullet hits or misses. In the State of Wisconsin, for 
example, the extreme penalty provided by statute in the former 
case is imprisonment for life; in the latter, a term in the peniten- 
tiary not exceeding ten years in length. 

If, on the other hand, death is caused by accident during the 
prosecution of a minor offense, the penalty for the latter, in 
many jurisdictions, will be very greatly increased. 

“According to the present law of England, though a person is not 
criminally liable for the involuntary and unforeseen consequences of acts 
which are themselves permissible, the case is different if he commits an 
act which is wrong and criminal, or, as it seems, even if he commits an 
act which is wrong without being forbidden by law. Thus death caused 
unintentionally is regarded as murder if it takes place within a year and 
a day as the result of an unlawful act which amounts to a felony. For 



96 


ETHICS 


instance^ a person kills another accidentally by shooting at a domestic 
fowl with intent to steal it, and he will probably be convicted of murder 
... So far as I know the severity of the English law on unintentional 
homicide — which, in fact, is a survival of ancient Teutonic law — is with- 
out a parallel in the European legislation of the present day . . . yet 
the unintended deadly consequence of a criminal act always affects the 
punishment more or less.” * 

Farther evidence of the place of anger in the dysdemonic judg- 
ment may be found in the demand, well-nigh universal in primi- 
tive life and occurring sporadically well up the scale of civiliza- 
tion, that animals be punished for harm done by them. This 
attitude has not entirely disappeared among ourselves. A few 
years ago, in a river town in the West, a three-year-old girl was 
playing on the sidewalk in front of her house. Someone let out 
the family dog — a great, ungainly, Newfoundland pup. The dog 
made straight for the child, and expressed his joy at seeing his 
youthful mistress by jumping about her and finally on her, 
thereby throwing her violently against the stone wall that sepa- 
rated the yard from the street. As a result the child^s skull was 
very badly fractured. Some of the men employed along the river 
were heard to express their surprise that the owner of the dog, 
the little girl’s father, did not kill him. This spirit may be carried 
so far as to call for the punishment of inanimate objects, as the 
ax which by accident glances aside and wounds a bystander. 
The facts have been collected by Westermarck, in Chapter X of 
the work just referred to, where the same explanation will be 
found as that which is here offered. 

These facts, taken in their entirety, seem to me to permit of 
but one conclusion. In a variety of conditions we have seen the 
presence or absence of anger a determining factor in the judg- 
ment that punishment ought or ought not to be inflicted. But 
anger operates by stimulating malevolence. Malevolence thus 
appears as a source of moral judgments — those, namely, which 
we have classed as dysdemonic. 

•Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, Vol. 
I, p. 238. See on this general subject the entire chapter (IX). 



THE SOURCES OF MORAL JUDGMENTS 


97 


The Source of the Eudemonic Judgment 

The source of our eudemonic judgments, I have asserted, is 
benevolence. The following appear to be the principal reasons 
for accepting this view. In the first place, it seems a fair infer- 
ence from our study of the cause of the dysdemonic judgment. 
This study shows, I believe, that desire is capable of giving 
rise to moral judgments. If desire for harm is the source of the 
approbation of the aim to inflict harm, the inference seems little 
short of inevitable that the desire for good is the source of the 
approbation of the forbearance from harm and the aim to do 
good. 

This conclusion is confirmed by a second line of evidence. The 
relation of malevolence to the dysdemonic judgment was re- 
vealed by a study of the variations which this judgment exhibits 
under varying conditions. In the same way the manifold forms 
assumed by the eudemonic judgment point unmistakably, it 
seems to me, to benevolence as its source. This will be evident 
if we bring together the data supplied by Chapters III and V. 
When interests conflict, as we remember, the layman may regard 
any one of a number of choices as right: the greater good, the 
more striking good, the good of the nearer, the good of the more 
excellent. The first I will pass for the moment, as there may 
be room for differences of opinion as to its cause. But the phe- 
nomena brought together under the caption, ‘‘the more striking 
good,” unmistakably represent the influence of the imagination. 
The third type of judgment is most easily explained as a conse- 
quence of the influence of love, the feeling of congeniality, and 
the belief in blood relationship; while the fourth seems to owe 
its existence to admiration, which is the feeling with which we 
react to the spectacle of human excellence. 

Now imagination, love, the feeling of congeniality, belief in 
blood relationship, and admiration, have, as far as I can see, 
only one characteristic in common; they are capable (as we 
learned in Chapter V) of strengthening or intensifying benevo- 
lence. The simplest way, therefore, of explaining the facts of 
Chapter III is to say that we approve the choice of the more 
striking good because we desire its attainment more than we do 



98 


ETHICS 


that of the less striking good, the cause of this difference being 
the stimulating influence of the imagination upon benevolence. 
The same explanation may be applied to approbation of the 
choice of the good of the nearer and of the more excellent. The 
judgment that the greater good has the superior claim falls in 
line very simply and naturally with the preceding phenomena. 
Other things being equal the desire for more of a good thing 
will be stronger than the desire for less. It is obvious, then, why 
the choice of the greater good is approved if the eudemonic judg- 
ment has its source in the desire for the good of conscious beings. 

Sometimes, indeed, we seem almost to see benevolence, under 
the impulsion of imagination or love, in the act of determining 
the outcome of the judging process. An eighth-grade boy who had 
been guilty of persistent pilfering in the school-garden, went 
to this same garden one morning to pick his own carefully 
tended watermelon and found that it had disappeared during 
the night. Thereafter he took a very different attitude toward 
theft. He had been stealing repeatedly without the slightest 
compunction; but the minute he found himself the victim of 
another's disregard of property rights, a new light dawned on 
his mind. He went to his principal, spontaneously confessed the 
wrongs he had committed, and promised there should be no 
repetition — a promise which was faithfully kept. never knew 
before how it felt to lose a thing you had worked for,” was the 
explanation he gave of his change of heart. Other illustrations of 
the same principle will be found in Chapter VIII, page 120. 

Our conclusion seems to me to be strengthened by the existence 
of moral ^^blind spots,” in consequence of whieh noble deeds and 
great wrongs may be looked upon with equal indifference. These 
blind spots may be congenital or acquired, sporadic in their 
appearance and limited in extent, as with everyday men and 
women, or chronic and all-pervasive, as with moral imbeciles. 
They may be the product of environment or the consequence of 
native poverty of endowment. Their distribution certainly pre- 
sents problems far beyond the power of contemporary psy- 
chology to solve. But it is ordinarily possible to demonstrate 
that their boundaries are coterminous with the absence of 
altruism; that is to say, where there is moral blindness extending 



THE SOURCES OF MORAL JUDGMENTS 99 

over a particular field, small or great, there also the judge will 
be found to be indifferent to the good or harm involved. This is 
eminently the case where the entire mind is one unbroken blind 
spot, as far as moral issues are concerned, that is to say, among 
moral imbeciles. Their complete indifference to the good of their 
fellow-men — except here and there — is too notorious to admit of 
doubt. If other explanations of this relationship between moral 
apathy and the absence of altruism are conceivable, certainly 
that which is here offered has the merit of simplicity and entire 
compatibility with the facts of the preceding paragraphs. 

All in all the many and diverse phenomena exhibited by our 
moral judgments fit so completely the theory which finds their 
source in benevolence or malevolence, and are so difficult to 
combine with any other that the explanation here proposed seems 
inescapable. 

Morality Has Its Source in Ideals of Conduct 

We may generalize the preceding conclusions by saying that 
morality has its source in desire for the existence of certain 
volitions. Any comprehensive object of desire is called an ideal. 
Hence this formula may be made to read: The source of our 
moral judgments lies in our ideals — ideals of conduct and char- 
acter. The term moral standard, which we have been using from 
the beginning of our work, is, accordingly, but another name for 
a moral ideal. 

'Why Good Motives Are Desired as Well as Good Results 

A number of objections have been urged against theories of 
the type just presented.* One of them will be discussed in the 
next Chapter. Another will be answered by implication later on. 
There are two, however, w’hich I wish to deal with explicitly in 
this place. 

The existence of benevolence, as everyone would admit, is 
capable of explaining why we object to actions that have injuri- 
ous results, and why we desire those of the opposite kind. But 
some moralists contend that it can not explain why we care 
what motives lie behind the outer acts. If it is desire for conse- 

*See Notes, VI, “A List of Objections to tlie Thesis of Chapter VI, p. 496. 



100 


ETHICS 


quences that creates moral distinctions, then, provided the results 
are satisfactory, what difference does it make what motives pro- 
duced them? I reply that whatever reason there is for desiring 
actual results in the way of human welfare holds equally of the 
desire for volitions which are directed to the attainment of these 
results. For where the motives are bad the good results come only 
by accident, and therefore can not be counted upon with con- 
fidence a second time. This is why an employer regards as a very 
serious matter an attempt at dishonesty on the part of an em- 
ployee which may have been frustrated in time to prevent loss 
to himself, or which may even — ^through some combination of 
circumstances — have actually resulted in a benefit to him. This 
is why he demands from a prospective employee some evidence 
of good character. This is why the public care, or would care 
if they were wise, what are the motives of their representatives 
in the legislative or other offices of the state. As long as the 
interests of the public and those of the politician coincide it 
may make no “practical’^ difference what his real principles are. 
But suppose these interests diverge. Then, even though the only 
thing we care about is results, it will make an enormous difference 
whether he was moved by ambition and a love of money or by 
public spirit. There exists a perfect parallel in this respect be- 
tween character and intellect. The business man looking for a 
clerk wants intelligence because he wants the fruits of intelli- 
gence, and he does not expect to get the former ordinarily except 
from the latter. It is true that ‘^fortune brings in some boats 
that are not steered^* — but not many. Similarly, in the long run, 
we shall get the fruits of character only from character. There 
are important reasons besides these why the benevolent man 
desires human actions to be moved by good motives. These will 
be considered in Chapter X. But the reasons here assigned 
would be sufficient in the absence of all others. 

We may reach the same conclusion by looking at the problem 
from a slightly different angle. Wherever voluntary action takes 
place we find two things: a volition to produce certain results, 
and the results that actually take place. If the results produced 
are different from the results willed, evidently, in case they are 
bad, the fault lies not with the volition, but with conditions out- 



THE SOURCES OF MORAL JUDGMENTS 101 

side the man^s character, as ignorance or the play of chance. 
These act as an unforeseen puff of wind may act to deflect a 
perfectly aimed arrow away from the buirs-eye for which it 
started. Hume writes: 

“Why is this peach tree said to be better than that other, but because 
it produces more or better fruit. And would not the same praise be given 
it, though snails or vermin had destroyed the peaches before they came 
to their full maturity? In morals, too, is not the tree knoum by the fruit? 
And can not we easily distinguish between nature and accident in the 
one case as well as in the other?”* 

Is Altruism Too Weak to Serve as the Foundation of 
Moral Action? 

The second objection which I propose to consider has to do 
with the role of altruism — of benevolence directed to others than 
self — as a motive of human conduct. It is sometimes claimed that 
altruism is too weak a force in the average human being to 
account for the sacrifices that are often made in the performance 
of duty. Adam Smith, the famous author of the Wealth of Na- 
tions, presents this difficulty in a vigorous criticism of the ethical 
writings of his friend, David Hume. He says: 

“The man who gives up his pretensions to an office that was the great 
object of his ambition because he imagines that the services of another 
are better entitled to it; the man who exposes his life to defend that of 
his friend, which he judges to be of more importance, neither of them 
act from humanity [altruism] or because they feel more exquisitely what 
concerns the other person than what concerns themselves. . . The 
soldier who throws away his life in order to defend that of his officer 
'would perhaps be little affected by the death of that officer if it should 
happen w^ithout any fault of his own; and a very small disaster which had 
befallen himself might incite a very much more lively sorrow. . . There 
is many an honest Englishman who in his private station would be 
more seriously disturbed by the loss of a guinea than by the national 
loss of Minorca, who yet, had it been in his power to defend that for- 
tress, 'would have sacrificed his life a thousand times rather than, 
through his fault, have let it fall into the hands of the enemy.” 

In other words, we may make the greatest sacrifices of per- 
sonal interest in order that others may not be injured at our 
hands, or we may run the greatest risks to rescue them from 

* Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Sec. V, part II. 



1Q2 


ETHICS 


loss or danger, when, if a similar misfortune should happen to 
them without any responsibility, direct or indirect, on our part, 
we should feel quite indifferent about the matter. Hence it is 
inferred the motive for such sacrifices must be something other 
than altruism, or direct interest in their welfare.® 

The subject matter of ethics is primarily not actions but judg- 
ments upon actions. But we can not evade the diflBculty before us 
by running to this definition for shelter. For moral judgments, 
being the expression of an ideal, have a very intimate relation 
to conduct. My moral judgments represent the way I want 
human beings as such to act, and the term human beings in- 
cludes me. An ideal is a mere combination of words unless it has 
motive force and appeals to the will. Furthermore, it must pos- 
sess suflScient power to enable it to overcome the opposition of 
egoistic desires, at least at times. Otherwise, it is a mere product 
of sentimentalism. If, then, altruism is anything more than 
empty talk or shallow feeling, it must possess sufficient strength 
in some people, sometimes, to control even the strongest egoistic 
desire. After the battle of Santiago in the Spanish-American War 
a wounded soldier reopened his wound and died of exhaustion as 
a result of carrying water for two strangers lying next to him. 
When they refused to take the water which he had obtained by 
painfully and slowly crawling to a small puddle at what must 
have seemed an interminable distance, he urged it upon them, 
saying: ^^You have home and families to live for. I have none.” 
Returning, then, to the objection raised by Adam Smith, can we 
suppose that if the families of those two soldiers whose lives 
were thus saved had been deprived of husband and father in 
some manner entirely unconnected with the life of our hero, 
^nd he had known of the fact, it would have given him five 
minutes of genuine distress? The question answers itself. How 
then could the motive which led him to undergo the torture and 
danger of a reopened wound and burning thirst (for there was no 
water left for him) — how could this motive have been a direct 

* Theory of Moral Sentiments, Bohn Edition, Part IV, Ch. II; pp. 274- 
276. The conclusion stated in the text is not quite identical with that 
drawn by Smith, but is near enough for our purposes, and is the conclusion 
which has actually been drawn from these facts in most cases by the 
opponents of the view we are defending. 



THE SOURCES OF MORAL JUDGMENTS 103 

interest in the fate of these families, the members of which he 
had never even seen? 

In many cases of self-sacrifice there is no puzzle to be ex- 
plained. A mother gives up ease and pleasure and conquers 
fatigue and physical weakness for the sake of her sick child, 
because love makes her care for its welfare more than for her 
own. Again the sight of misery tends to open our minds to its 
reality (“If we all ate at the same table, no one would be allowed 
to go hungry”), and the sensitive man feels concern for it as 
directly as for the most concretely apprehended elements of his 
own future. This fact accounts easily and simply not merely for 
his attempts to relieve immediately observed suiTcring, but for 
many refusals to inflict harm upon others for the sake of personal 
gain. Some years ago the newspapers announced the existence of 
a ring whose members were making fortunes by enticing seventh- 
and eighth-grade school children into the use of cocaine and 
opium. The ordinary man certainly does not lie awake nights 
picturing the agonies of these unfortunate victims. But if he were 
offered fifty thousand dollars a year to take part in the traffic, 
he would say to himself: “I could never stand it. The sight of 
those children's faces would poison my happiness, and leave me 
not a moment of peace either day or night.” 

Certain strong emotions, then, and a vivid realization of 
another’s conscious life tend to shake the mind out of its habitual 
lethargy, and to arouse the same interest in another’s good that 
one feels in his own. This fact supplies us with the first clue for 
the solution of our problem. 

A second is afforded by the effects of the recognition of a 
causal connection between one’s own self and the state of another 
person, as set forth above in Chapter V, page 83. We often 
call this the sense of moral responsibility; but, as we have already 
seen, it is a special case of a broader principle. Wherever I find 
that through the faulty operation of any element of my mind, 
be it intellect or will, another person has been harmed, I tend to 
become immediately interested in the victim. Thus if I break a 
man’s ribs by using poor judgment in handling my car in a tight 
place, or plunge him into poverty by recommending, in perfect 
good faith, an investment which turns out to be unsound, I shall, 



104 


ETHICS 


if I am up to the average level of my race, feel greatly dis- 
tressed at the result, and may in many cases want to make 
every reparation in my power. This characteristic of the mind 
produces not merely a desire to relieve immediate suffering, but 
also a desire to avoid the inflicting of pain. More than this, as was 
also pointed out in Chapter V, even when the connection be- 
tween my act and your harm is purely accidental, so that I can 
neither reproach my will nor my intellect for any part in it^ I 
still feel much the same concern. Indeed any sort of a personal 
relationship to a misfortune, however remote this relationship 
may be, is sufficient to transport some exceptionally sensitive 
minds across the great gulf that separates self from its neighbor. 
A lady was in a car driven by her husband which dragged a 
young child for a distance of a hundred feet. She herself was 
on the back seat and could under no conceivable circumstances 
have done anything herself. There could be no possibility 
of blaming the driver, nor in fact does the wife blame him in the 
slightest degree. Furthermore, by some miracle, the child escaped 
unhurt. Nevertheless, although more than six months had elapsed 
between the time of this incident and its narration to me, the 
lady declared that she had been unable since that day to ride 
in a car with any pleasure, and that she had given up the idea 
which she had previously entertained of learning to drive. 

A causal connection between my act and your welfare, even 
where the connection is remote, may thus serve to arouse directly 
my interest in you, and make me desire to treat you, or wish to 
have treated you, as I would have you treat me. 

There is, however, still another reason why I may make serious 
sacrifices for others when the good or evil fortune of the man who 
directly benefits would not seriously affect my feelings if it were 
due to causes other than my own conduct. The best actions of 
some men owe their existence, not so much to the interest in the 
person immediately affected, as to a strong desire for the estab- 
lishment or maintenance of a certain type of social relationship. 
I may be honest, where dishonesty would appear profitable to 
me, because I want a society in which men are honest; and I 
may be kind because I want a society in which men are kind; 
so that I do my part as a means to this end. No one will have 



THE SOURCES OF MORAL JUDGMENTS 105 

this desire unless he has some interest in the individuals who 
constitute this society. Zero multiplied by a million still gives 
zero. But one multiplied by a million is a million. Accordingly 
if I look at my actions in the light of their social effects I may 
feel a concern for these effects which is out of all proportion to 
my concern for the immediate beneficiary. Furthermore, it must 
not be forgotten that there enter here, just as in the desire to 
defend one’s native country against a foreign invader, considera- 
tions of self-interest and love of family and friends. For we all 
profit alike by membership in a social organization every one of 
whose parts is sound and in healthy interaction with every 
other.® 

But there is one more consideration that may be urged in 
meeting Adam Smith’s doubts which is far more fundamental 
and comprehensive than any that has yet been presented. Smith 
assumes that the strength of the desire, in other words, the 
amount of effort we are willing to put forth is proportionate to 
the amount of sorrow or disappointment we should feel if the 
end were not attained. This is very far from being the truth. 
The best evidence for my contention is obtainable from our atti- 
tude towards our own good. A host sat at a table loaded with a 
great variety of delicious viands, for his wife was what is called 
“a good housekeeper.” He himself, however, having been for 
several years a half invalid, was eating his regular meal of mush 
and milk. A guest asked him if he did not sometimes feel an 
almost intolerable longing for the good things which his table 
offered in such abundance. His reply was: “I never think any- 
thing about it any more.” In other words, he had lost all feeling 
on the subject. But from this it could not be inferred that he 
would not have eaten with the others if the physician had given 
him permission. Much the same thing may be said, though for 
slightly different reasons, with regard to wealth. Many a man 
would work to the limit of his powers for many years to become 
a millionaire. Yet, knowing that this is forever impossible, he 
does not for this reason, provided he has a competence, become 

* For another explanation of the love of a smoothly running and closely 
knit social organism, supplementary to rather than in conflict with that 
presented above, see Smith, op. dt.. Part IV, Ch. I, Bohn Edition, p. 285. 



106 


ETHICS 


either sad or bitter. What is true of “present” good is true of 
future good and ill. Suppose a physician to be able to convince 
a man of thirty that he was doomed to die at fifty unless he 
adopted a certain rigorous regime or abandoned some habit such 
as drinking coffee. Many men would thereupon make the neces- 
sary exertions, however unpleasant. But suppose a physician 
should convince a man of thirty that he was doomed to die at 
fifty and that nothing could save him. He would in many in- 
stances not feel particularly distressed at the prospect thus placed 
before him. It certainly must have happened in the experience of 
almost everyone to strive long and vigorously for a certain per- 
sonal end, turning the back upon passing pleasures, occasions of 
ease, and much else dear to the natural man, and then to fail of 
attainment. Yet the pain of disappointment felt at this result 
has proved to be almost absurdly brief in duration and slight in 
intensity in comparison with the extent and intensity of the 
effort — certainly a kindly disposition of Nature. This is pre- 
cisely what happens in the relation of an altruistic man to the 
welfare of his neighbors. If he can help them or spare them harm, 
either by overt act or forbearance, he will gladly do so. If he 
can not, he ordinarily finds no diflSculty in dismissing their trou- 
bles from his mind and feels little or no emotional disturbance 
about the matter. This is also a kindly disposition of Nature. But 
as in the case of self, so in the case of others, the want of feeling 
is no evidence for the want of good will. 

My conclusion is that the average decent person has a good 
deal more altruism (not merely of the latent kind referred to in 
Chapter V, page 70, but of the ready-for-service variety) than 
he perhaps thinks he has; at all events than some writers, who 
do not deny its existence, think he has; and that the amount of 
this altruism, in connection, at least, with certain forces to be 
mentioned in Chapter X, suffices to account (1) for the warmth 
of his reactions to good and bad conduct in the way of moral 
judgments, and (2) the sacrifices he is willing to make for the 
sake of others, both in the way of forbearances and of acts 
of positive service. 



Chapter VII 


THE MEANING OF RIGHT 

Curiously enough most moralists make no attempt to define 
the term right. This neglect on their part is due, I presume, to a 
failure to distinguish the problem of meaning from that of 
standard. Yet it is easy to show that the two are anything but 
identical. Suppose, for example, I assert with Aristotle that those 
actions are right which represent a mean between two extremes 
(as true courage is a mean between cowardice and rashness), or 
with Francis Hutcheson that those actions are right which “pro- 
cure the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers." The ques- 
tion still remains. What do I mean by calling such actions right? 
To say, for example, that right means “i)rocuring the greatest 
happiness for the greatest numbers" is to say: “Those actions 
procuring the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers pro- 
cure the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers." The 
problem of standards of right, discussed in Chapters II and III, 
is thus one thing; the problem of the meaning of right, a very 
different thing. 

The Meaning of Right 

Our quest for a definition of right starts from the following 
assertion: The source of the eudemonic judgment is benevolence, 
or the desire for the good of conscious beings; that of the dysde- 
monic judgment is malevolence, or the desire for their harm. 
The source of all moral judgments is thus desire. For me to call a 
volition right, then, means that I believe it to be such as I, in 
virtue of my benevolence or malevolence, as the case may be, 
desire should control the actions of men under the given condi- 
tions. To call it wrong is to assert that I believe it to be in con- 
flict with the demands of benevolence (or malevolence). To call 
it morally indifferent or innocent means that my benevolence (or 
malevolence) feels no interest in it, one way or the other. 

This definition, as it stands, is open to a serious objection. 

107 



108 


ETHICS 


It might be urged equally against the role here attributed to 
either benevolence or malevolence. For the sake of brevity, how- 
ever, I shall examine it only with reference to the former, since 
whatever may be alleged against or for the one applies equally, 
in principle, to the other. 

Benevolence, the objection would run, is subject to a great 
number of influences, some of which stimulate it in certain 
specific directions while others act as depressants. In consequence 
its actual workings are about as capricious as the weather. The 
welfare of self, for example, tends to interest us more than that 
of most other persons; ^ that of the members of our family more 
than that of our friends; that of our friends more than that of 
our acquaintances; that of our acquaintances more than that of 
total strangers. The same thing is true of our fellow-countrymen 
in comparison with foreigners and of our contemporaries in com- 
parison with those who lived a hundred years ago or who will live 
a hundred years hence. An incident which we ourselves have wit- 
nessed, such as a refusal to relieve undeserved and helpless 
poverty, or an automobile collision due to excessive speed, makes 
us feel very differently from one about which we have only heard 
or read. And our feelings in the latter case are apt to depend 
upon the vividness and completeness with which the narrator 
brings the situation home to our imagination. An incident which 
we can realize because we have been through just such an experi- 
ence before, impresses us far more profoundly than one which 
we know only through having viewed it from the outside. The 
robbery or oppression of those whom we see from day to day, 
especially if we happen to be acquainted with them, particularly 
if we do not know the oppressor, above all if he is not a member 
of our family to say nothing of being ourself, arouses far more 
sympathy for the victims than if they are to us merely a mass 
of unknown men and women living for all practical purposes in 
a different world from our own. But with all these variations 
in the direction and strength of our benevolence, what is really 
right or wrong, as we all admit, remains right or wrong, un- 
changed. Wrong does not become right or vice versa merely be- 

* It will be remembered that the regard for self is a part of benevolence 
as we use the term. 



THE MEANING OF RIGHT 


109 


cause the action took place a hundred years ago instead of this 
morning, because I did not happen to see it myself, or because 
I have happened, at some time in the past, to be in a similar 
position myself, or because one of the persons concerned happens 
to be an acquaintance, a member of my family, or myself. There- 
fore, it may be urged, judgments of right and wrong do not 
depend upon benevolence at all, but have some other source in 
the mind. 

This difficulty is met by noting that when I say, “This conduct 
is right, as distinguished from “This is the conduct I desire,’* I 
believe myself to be looking at it from a particular point of view. 
Thus if a man is planning to start a grocery store opposite mine 
my egoism will rejoice if an unexpected failure to obtain the 
necessary credit renders it impossible for him to carry out his 
purpose. But I shall not call his proposed action wrong unless I 
suppose a third party, conversant with all of the facts of the 
situation, and weighing his interests and mine with entire im- 
partiality, would disapprove it. Similarly when I call an act 
involving other persons wrong, as the unnecessary forcing of a 
debtor into bankruptcy, I suppose my judgment to be uninflu- 
enced by the fact that one of the parties concerned happens to be 
a member of my family while the other is not, or a friend as dis- 
tinguished from a stranger. I suppose, too, that I have eliminated 
the chance effects upon my imagination of the fact that I have or 
have not witnessed the act, that I once met one of the parties, or 
that I am familiar with the place where it happened. In a word, 
when I call an action right or wrong, I suppose that my attitude 
is not determined by my personal relationships to it, whatever 
the character of these relationships may be. Only that conduct 
can properly be called right which is desired when it is looked at 
from an impersonal point of view. 

We might accordingly define right conduct as that which is 
desired when it is looked at from an impersonal point of view. 
Such a definition would be correct, as far as it goes, and practi- 
cally useful. I shall not hesitate to employ it whenever I have 
occasion to do so. But as a definition it labors under the defect 
of being a statement in negative terms; it is what I desire when 
I do not take a certain point of view. The positive definition 



110 


ETHICS 


however, emerges from the negative. The conduct which I desire 
when I have eliminated all the accidental relations of self to the 
parties concerned represents the way I wish A to treat B, who- 
ever A and B may be; whether I happen to be related to or 
acquainted with either of them or not; whether they are living 
and suffering or enjoying today, or whether they died a hundred 
years ago; whether their home is in the same block with mine, or 
in Siberia. A right volition, then, may be defined as that volition 
which I desire should control the actions of all human beings 
who are in the particular situation under consideration. Or, in 
slightly less exact language, when I call a volition right, I believe 
it represents the way I want everyone to treat everyone else 
under the same conditions. 

Both the first and the second ^^everyone,” in the above formula, 
of course include self. If I object to stealing on the part of others 
when I myself am not the victim, I must object to it on the part 
of myself also. It goes without saying that if I am contemplating 
the rifling of my neighbor's pockets, opposing considerations may 
enter which overrule the objection. But if I really object to 
stealing as such, I shall, in the midst of my thievery, still wish 
that I could get the money through some other means. 

Our definition explains, or rather is simply another statement 
of the familiar maxim that what is right for one is right for 
everyone else under the same conditions. This maxim is no dis- 
covery of moralists but is recognized and employed by every six- 
year-old boy. Of course, I do not mean that he goes about 
reciting this formula to himself, any more than he has ever said 
or thought to himself: “Of two contradictory propositions one 
must be false.” But he can apply it in the concrete, none the less. 
Thus you may hear him say to his father: “You will not let me 
talk when there is company at dinner, but you talk;” or, “You 
whipped me for telling a lie to you, but you told a lie to the 
conductor when he asked you how old I was.” And when he does 
not dare make these accusations to his father^s face, he thinks 
them — often in bitterness of spirit. It is this use of a standard 
of conduct, applicable in principle to everyone, that marks the 
birth of the moral judgment alike in the individual and the race.* 

* See Notes, VII, “What are ‘the Same Conditions’?” p. 497. 



THE MEANING OF RIGHT 


111 


The Distinction between Valid and Invalid Moral 
Judgments 

From the preceding definition of right follows a very important 
consequence. We are constantly using the term right as the predi- 
cate of a moral judgment when as a matter of fact the conduct 
so denominated does not conform to the definition. We believe 
it does, indeed, but we may be mistaken about what we really 
w^ant just as about anything else. Thus w^hen I call it wrong for 
another business organization to entice avray from my ofiice 
my most valued clerk by the offer of a salary higher than I can 
afford to pay, I believe I want business men to refrain from 
taking good employees away from their employers; but what I 
may really want is merely that no one should take away my 
employees. Hence arises the distinction between true and jalse, 
correct and incorrect moral judgments. My moral judgment is 
correct if it expresses accurately the way in which I wish j)eoplc 
to treat each other under the given conditions; in other words, 
if it conforms to the definition of right. For technical use a better 
term than correct is valid, because this means genuine, or that 
w^hich really is what it is believed to be. 

The difficulty, then, which appeared to be involved in defining 
right in terms of desire is met by pointing out that our judgments 
of right may have their source in desire and yet represent some- 
thing very different from the demands of the passing feeling 
with which we chance to look upon a particular situation. The 
search for this “something^^ has not merely yielded our definition^ 
it has provided the explanation for that familiar phenomenon, the 
characterization of moral judgments as true or false. 

The Place of Approbation and Thankfulness in the Moral 

Judgment 

When I am expressing my moral judgments I may use either 
one of two sets of terms. I may refer to the act itself, calling it 
right, or praiseworthy, or something similar. Or I may use terms 
which point expressly to my attitude towards the act, saying 
that I approve or disapprove it. What, then, do I mean when I 
say, "I approve,” or “I disapprove?” The answer is simple. To 



112 


ETHICS 


approve anything — whether an action, a fountain pen, or a cook 
— is to feel satisfaction at the thought of its existence. But this 
definition takes us directly back to desire. For the feeling of satis- 
faction is always due to desire. It is the feeling which arises, 
or tends to arise when our desire for the existence of any- 
thing has been realized. 

When satisfaction or dissatisfaction is felt because conduct 
conforms or fails to conform to our desires, gratitude or resent- 
ment tends to arise towards the agent who produced the result. 
These fuse with the emotions of satisfaction and dissatisfaction 
and create a whole which is very different from the bare satis- 
faction or dissatisfaction itself. They account very largely for 
the warmth and vigor of our feelings toward the good action and 
the good man, and the bad action and the bad man, respectively. 
The anger, or resentment, aroused by the non-realization of the 
desires which are the source of the moral judgment is called 
moral indignation. For the opposite emotion the English language 
has only the term moral thankfulness. Moral approbation is thus 
a fusion of satisfaction and thankfulness, aroused by the attitude 
towards good or harm exhibited in human volitions.* 

The state of mind called ^^approving’^ contains in its complete 
form, as appears from the above description, two elements, 
namely, thought and emotion. Under some circumstances, the 
latter may disappear entirely. In such cases what we mean when 
we say we approve a given action is that we believe if certain 
conditions were not operating to counteract or destroy it, we 
should be feeling approbation. This belief is due ordinarily, or 
at least often, to the recognition of the action as belonging to the 
class which normally arouses this feeling, as faithfulness to a 
promise. The counteracting conditions are such as those which we 
have already described as tending to kill benevolence, and which 
may be equally fatal to a vigorous malevolence; namely, vague, 
sketchy, and hazy thoughts of the conduct and its consequences, 
preoccupation of the attention with other affairs, or dulling of the 
sensibility through habituation or through fatigue in any of its 
forms. The same phenomenon may take place in our judgment 
that a story is humorous or a scene beautiful. 

•See Notes, VII, “Gratitude Towards Self,” p. 498. 



THE MEANING OF RIGHT 


113 


‘T have seen views in the tropics in which I could intellectually 
recognize all the elements of beauty, so that I gave in a verbal 
adhesion to the proposition that they were lovely, while at the same 
time they utterly failed to produce in me the faintest thrill of 
pleasure [because of the influence of the climate in depressing the 
tone of the nervous system]. Photographs of the same places, seen 
now under an English sky and an English nervous diathesis, strike 
me as exquisitely beautiful.’’* 

There are several reasons why it is important to notice that in 
approbation where an emotion is not present it is latent. One is 
that the ignoring of this fact seems to have been one of the causes 
which has led many moralists to suppose that the moral judgment 
is a purely intellectual process, like the apprehension of the 
truths of mathematics.* 

The Nature of Conscience 

The preceding analysis enables us to define the term conscience. 
Conscience means, in common speech, that by which conduct is 
judged right or wrong. According to some systems of ethics the 
moral judgment has its source in one special power, or “faculty,” 
or corner of the mind. If our account of the matter is correct the 
moral judgment is the reaction of the mind as a whole in favor 
of some kinds of conduct and in opposition to others. The moral 
judgment can not operate except as we use our capacity for 
thought — what the psychologists call intellect. For it involves 
the idea of an action and an idea of the situation within which 
the action takes place. Among the ideas concerned must be 
those of effects. These are gained through the instrumentality of 
the senses. Then there is the reaction of desire to the idea of the 
action, with its normal consequences, the emotions of satisfac- 
tion or dissatisfaction and thankfulness or indignation. We thus 
see that our moral judgment involves the activity of every de- 
partment of the mind. Conscience therefore may be defined as the 
mind as a whole engaged in passing judgment upon volitions. 

The term conscience is sometimes confined to that power or 

•Grant Allen, Physiological Pathetics, p. 56. 

*See Notes, VII, “The Moral Judgment Is Not an Artificial Device 
Invented to Increase the Amount of Socially Useful Action,” p. 498. 



114 


ETHICS 


those powers by which we pass judgment upon our own conduct. 
But as these are identical with the powers by which we judge 
other persons, this limitation is purely arbitrary. 

A Summary and a Look Forward 

The moral judgment represents an attitude taken towards ac- 
tions, or more accurately, towards volitions. We may think of 
it, if we wish, as a response to a stimulus, or to a situation actual 
or conceived. With regard to such a judgment we may ask the 
following questions: 

1. Finding that volitions A, B, C, D, etc. arouse a response of 
a certain kind we may ask, What is the quality or what are the 
qualities common to these volitions, in consequence of which they 
call forth the response? If there turns out to be no quality com- 
mon to all, we must group those stimuli together which do 
possess a common quality, dividing them thereby into classes. 
The common quality which produces judgments of approval 
forms our standards, a standard being precisely that character- 
istic of a volition which arouses a favorable response. The funda- 
mental standards, as we have learned, are two in number, the 
eudemonic and the dysdemonic. An inquiry dealing with the 
nature and number of our standards is thus an inquiry directed to 
the stimulus. 

2. We may ask, on the other hand, what is the nature of the 
response and what is its source in the mind? That is to say, what 
is there in the structure and processes of the mind which causes 
it to respond to volitions as it does? The discussion of the exis- 
tence and nature of benevolence and malevolence, of the meaning 
of right, and of the source of the moral judgment, attempts to 
answer these questions. 

3. Finally, there is a third problem. Is the response ever evoked 
by a volition only because the volition appears to be different 
from what it really is? If so, the terms true and false, or valid 
and invalid may properly be applied to our judgments. Here 
accordingly emerges a new set of problems: How distinguish 
between valid and invalid judgments, and which of our judgments 
are the former and which are the latter? These form the subject 
matter of Chapter VIII. 



Chapter VIII 

THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 

With a definition of right in our possession we are at length 
prepared to deal with the great problem: What volitions — if any 
— are valid or really right? We here enter the field of normative 
ethics and attempt to separate our judgments into two groups, 
those which are to be accepted, and those to be rejected. 

The direction of our inquiry is determined by our definition. 
When I call a volition right, I mean that I believe it to be such a 
one as I desire should determine the action of everyone under 
the same conditions. All judgments of mine which conform to this 
definition and its implications are valid; those which fail to 
conform are invalid. We shall now try to discover whether the 
application of this test will compel us to cast aside all the stand- 
ards which we are in the habit of applying save one. If so, the 
survivor of this sifting process, as the only one that can meet the 
test, will emerge as the ultimate and universal standard of right 
and wrong. 

Objective and Subjective Valuation 

We shall begin our investigation with a study of the eude- 
monic judgment, leaving the dysdemonic for future considera- 
tion. We shall start with those forms of this judgment which arise 
where there is a conflict between mutually exclusive interests, 
such as those described above in Chapter III. The question which 
the judge must then decide is: Which alternative ought the agent 
to accept? All the answers to this question fall into one of two 
classes. In the first the judgment is based upon an estimate of 
the relative importance to the parties concerned of the interests 
affected by the action. Where the judge uses this standard he will 
regard that volition as right which aims at the greater good, or, 
where harm is inevitable, the less harm.' We shall find it con- 

* This statement disregards, for the sake of simplicity, possible qualitative 
differences between goods, or differences on a scale of higher and lower.,- 

115 



116 


ETHICS 


venient to have a name for the mental process in which we weigh 
the claims of competing interests in accordance with their actual 
importance for each of the parties under consideration. I shall 
call such an estimate an “objective valuation*’. Any valuations 
in conflict with an objective valuation I shall call “subjective 
valuations”. They are all due, in the last resort, to one of two 
causes. One of these I shall leave for later treatment (page 
126 ff.). The other is the one-sided working of certain stimulants 
of benevolence. Of these the most important are the imagination, 
and what I may call our liking for the person or party in ques- 
tion. The latter term includes love, the feeling of congeniality, 
the sense of nearness produced by a belief in community of blood, 
and admiration with its allied feelings, as described in Chapter V. 
If these forces operated so as to arouse our benevolence in pro- 
portion to the objective value of the various interests at stake 
they would of course make no difference in the judgment. This is 
a possible contingency and may happen perhaps not infrequently. 
But in many cases they act upon the ideas before the mind as a 
searchlight does upon a landscape, illuminating every detail in 
one part of the field, and throwing the rest of it into a deeper 
darkness. And between these two extremes all possible intermedi- 
ate effects are to be found. A one-sided valuation arises, accord- 
ingly, when some stimulant engages benevolence in behalf of one 
party to the partial or total exclusion of the other, in contradic- 
tion to the objective importance of the interests at stake. 

What is meant by saying that a stimulant may act upon the 
mind as a search-light upon a landscape may be illustrated by 
the following incident. Some years ago a painting was exhibited 
in various cities of the United States entitled “The Christians 
Thrown to the Lions”. It represented, of course, a group of Chris- 
tians being torn to pieces by lions in the Roman arena. A certain 
pious mother took her son, aged eight, to see this picture in the 
hope of creating in his mind a living sense of some of the great 
tragedies of church history. The youthful pagan gazed at the 
painting for several minutes so intently that the mother felt sure 

This problem will be taken up in Chapter XX. Its solution will not affect 
the present study, one way or the other. For a more detailed account of 
the standard here under discussion, see above Chapter III, page 38 ff. 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 117 

it had produced a deep impression. Then he shouted: ‘'Oh, 
mother, mother I There is one poor lion that hasn't got any 
Christian." 

Carrying our analogy of the search-light a step farther, and 
substituting the stage of a theater for the outdoor world upon 
which the search-light commonly plays, we may speak of a 
subjective valuation as a spot-light valuation, and an objective, 
as a flood-light valuation. 

With these terms at our disposal we may now turn to the task 
of exhibiting the varying forms assumed by the eudcmonic judg- 
ment in consequence of the operation of the forces just enumer- 
ated, and of determining which, if any, may properly be called 
“incorrect" or invalid, and which valid.* 


The Influence of Egoistic Interests upon Eudemonic 
Judgments 

Our explorations may begin with the study of the influences of 
egoism upon the eudemonic judgment. Everyone knows how con- 
tinuously and how subtly personal interests serve to warp the 
judgment in matters which concern self, where we suppose our- 
selves to be taking a purely impersonal standpoint. Thus a busi- 
ness man of large capital drives out of the market and totally 
destroys a number of smaller competitors by threatening to ruin 
them if they do not surrender unconditionally and turn over 
their plants to him at his own price. He sees nothing oppressive 
or otherwise wrong in this operation; he regards it as “merely 
business." But in the hour of his victory he comes into conflict 
with an organization possessed of still larger capital which sub- 
jects him to precisely the same treatment. Then he calls high 
Heaven to witness the inhumanity and injustice with which he 
has been treated. His rivals are a set of cutthroats and thieves, 
who have virtually stolen his property and who ought to be 
behind the bars of a penitentiary. 

This type of inconsistency, I need hardly say, is far from 
being a specialty of business men, but may be found in every 
department of life. 

*See Notes, VIII, ‘‘The Abuse of Names in Reasoning,” p. 500. 



118 


ETHICS 


** The monster/ whispers Voltaire to Madame Denis [referring to his 
host, Frederick the Great, of Prussia], 'he opens all our letters in the 
post' — ^Voltaire, whose light-handedness with other people's correspon- 
dence was only too notorious. The monkey,' mutters Frederick, 'he 
shows my private letters to his friends' — Frederick, who had thought 
nothing of betraying Voltaire’s letters to the Bishop of Mirepoix. 'How 
happy I should be here,' exclaims the callous old poet, ‘but for one 
thing — his majesty is utterly heartless!' And meanwhile Frederick, who 
had never let a farthing escape from his close fist without some very good 
reason, was busy concocting an epigram upon the avarice of Voltaire.” * 

The influence of egoistic considerations in warping the judg- 
ment is not confined to those cases where the egoistic interests 
of the judge are actually involved. It insinuates itself into situa- 
tions where there is no personal interest whatever at stake, and 
where we might suppose there would be no opportunity for it to 
serve as a disturbing factor. Called upon to decide between two 
rival claims, the mind tends spontaneously and instantly, by a 
kind of dramatic impulse, to put itself in the position of one 
party or the other; and while it supposes itself to be determining 
which set of interests, objectively considered, has the better 
claim, it is in fact asking: If I were in the place of one of the 
parties concerned, what should I want? Thus when a new^spaper 
announced that the daughter of an absconding defaulter had 
declared her willingness to help the police find her father, a cer- 
tain woman told a friend she thought such an offer wrong. “At 
least,” she added, “I should not want my daughter to treat me 
in that way.” 

In this illustration the judge thinks of himself as the patient.® 
Ordinarily, however, he puts himself in the place of the chief 
actor in the drama. That is to say, the abstract question of right 
and wrong usually takes the practical form: What would it be 
my duty to do under the circumstances? In this case we tend to 
look at the situation primarily from the point of view of the 
agent's interests, to the greater or less disregard of the interests 
of the patient. In consequence the latter have little chance of 
receiving consideration, for we can imagine what we ourselyes 

*Lytton Strachey, Books and Characters, p. 175. Shakespeare's historical 
plays almost harp on this theme. 

•For the meaning of this term as here used, see Chapter I, page 17. 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 119 

have to gain or lose by the transaction far more vividly than we 
can the effects upon him. In consequence the average judgment 
is apt to be lenient to the agent, and correspondingly chilly 
towards the claims of the other party. 

The chief exception to the above principle is very significant. 
It is that of murder. Thus a class of university students are 
asked every year the following question. 

Miss Wagner, an opera singer, made an exclusive contract to sing 
for a certain period for an opera manager, Mr. Lumley. Later, 
another manager, Mr. Gye, induced her to break her contract with 
his rival and to appear in his own company. Miss Wagner had no 
justification for her action, and her only motive was the desire to 
make more money. Was Mr. Gye justified, on his part, in offering 
her the inducement which led her to go back on her agreement 'll 

About fifty per cent answer this question in the affirmative. 
They think the responsibility for the wrong rests solely upon 
the shoulders of Miss Wagner. Then another question is asked, 
involving precisely the same principle: 

AVas Lieutenant Becker justified in offering money to the Now 
York gunmen in order to induce them to kill the gambler Rosenthal? 

All answer ‘^No.’’ The principal reason for this difference in 
attitude seems to be that whereas no one of them can imagine 
himself as really engaged in planning a murder, all or most can 
very easily picture themselves trying to get a prize away from a 
business competitor. 

If a Moral Judgment Is to Be Valid It Must Be Freti from 
THE Influence of Purely Egoistic Considerations 

What will the layman do when he discovers that his judgment 
has been the plaything of his personal interests? David, King of 
Israel, having become enamored of Bathsheba and wishing to 
possess her himself although she was the wife of another man, 
ordered her husband to be placed in a post of danger in an 
approaching battle, and then, when the enemy had done their 
work, added the widow to his already large collection of wives. 
This he did without the faintest beginnings of a qualm of con- 
science. Then the prophet Nathan came to him and told him the 
parable of the rich man who seized a poor man’s one ewe lamb. 
This tale aroused the indignation of the king to the highest pitch, 



120 


ETHICS 


whereupon the prophet turned upon him with the words: “Thou 
art the man.” Instantly the scales fell from his eyes, and in 
contrition of spirit he confessed that he had sinned.* 

This is what men actually do when they succeed in seeing such 
judgments as these in their true light. Why they do so was 
explained in the preceding Chapter. Right, as we there learned, 
means a rule binding equally upon all who are in the same situa- 
tion. From this it follows that no judgment can be correct, or 
valid, which turns upon the accidental relation of the action to 
my personal interests. For if the action is right here and now it 
must be equally right where I and my personal interests are 
absent, whether in China or Peru. 

In thus repudiating the bias produced by egoistic interests the 
lay conscience is in reality, even though not explicitly aware of 
the fact, repudiating a subjective in favor of the objective valua- 
tion. 

Other Instances of the Influence of the Imagination 

The power of egoism to influence the judgment is due funda- 
mentally and chiefly, as we have seen, to the workings of the im- 
agination,® so that the warping of the judgment by egoism is a 
case of its warping by the imagination. This settles at once the 
status of a large number of judgments. I may condemn an em- 
ployer for dismissing an incompetent or lazy employee solely 
because I happen to be acquainted with the latter and can realize 
his plight, while the former is a stranger, and neither his troubles 
nor those of his customers who are disserved form any definite 
picture in my mind. I may condemn an automobile driver for 
fast driving because I happened to see the accident, whereas if I 
had not been an eye-witness of a horrible death scene but had 
been made acquainted with the facts through the testimony of 
others I should have contended that the driver was well within 
his rights in driving as he did. Again my decision with regard 
to the obligation to obey a general rule may turn upon the pres- 
ence or absence of certain experiences in my past life and the 
power they have preserved to impress the imagination. For in- 

Samuel XH, 1-14. 

• Chapter V, page 80, above ; c/. Chapter III, page 40 ff . 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 121 

stance, in the course of the investigation into the moral judg- 
ments of university students frequently referred to in earlier 
chapters, one young man declared it wrong for a man to steal 
bread in order to save from starvation a helpless widow and her 
children, whereas he thought it entirely permissible for a doctor 
to give an overdose of morphine to release from torture a man 
hopelessly sick with cancer. When inquiry was made into the 
reason for this somewhat peculiar combination, it appeared that 
the respondent was able to imagine with great vividness the 
situation of the patient racked and torn with the agony of cancer; 
whereas the sufferings of the family dying of starvation did not 
form any definite picture in his mind. This difference in sensitive- 
ness in the two cases seems, in its turn, to have been due to the 
presence of illness and the absence of the pangs of starvation in 
his own past life. 

The imagination thus has an enormous power to twist our 
judgments this way and that in its fitful play upon our estimation 
of values. The result is the tendency to regard what in Chapter 
III was called the ‘‘more striking good’^ as having the superior 
claim. But when the nature of the issue is clearly realized the lay 
conscience rejects those judgments which are due merely to the 
fact that the imagination of the judge chances to respond more 
vigorously to the interests of one party than the other. In other 
words, it repudiates the valuations which have their source in 
the one-sided workings of the imagination in favor of a judgment 
based upon an objective valuation. 

The Influence of Love, of “Consciousness of Kind,^^ and of 
Community of Blood 

The subtle workings of the imagination in attracting our sym- 
pathy to one side of the scene are matched by the similar opera- 
tion of what we may loosely call our likes and dislikes for the 
persons concerned, although a close analysis would usually show 
the imagination also operating as a factor in the situation. 

The influence of love, in the sense of “tender emotion,” of the 
feeling of congeniality or “consciousness of kind,” and of the 
belief in blood relationship, upon our interests in the good of the 
persons concerned, has already been described (Chapter V, page 



122 


ETHICS 


81 and following). Especially when combined, these elements 
often sweep every contending consideration out of their path and 
produce results in the way of moral judgments which might well 
astound an observer from Mars. When my son sets upon my 
neighbor's son and gives hina a black eye, I am likely to regard 
the incident as merely the natural ebullition of healthy animal 
spirits; but when his son performs precisely the same operation 
upon my son — it becomes a very different matter indeed. 

Our moral judgments are constantly being determined by these 
relationships even where we suppose ourselves most impersonal. 
A typical illustration follows. Some years ago, in the course of 
an investigation, the following problem, among others, was given 
to a number of University of Wisconsin undergraduates. 

A man returning from his day’s work was crossing a railroad track 
near his home when he discovered that a switch had been left open by 
a careless switchman. This he saw at once would mean death or injury 
to the several hundred people in a rapidly approaching train. At the 
same moment he saw his only child playing upon the track in front of 
the engine. He had time only to turn the switch and save the train or 
else to save the child. Which was it his duty to do ? • 

In addition to this, the problem was presented which John 
Howard had to face v/hen called to choose between the moral 
welfare of his son and the continuance of his work in prison re- 
form. In order that the real issue might be understood it was 
expressly stated that this work was primarily one of moral 
reformation. Howard^s problem was also presented in a modified 
form, as follows; 

This same alternative, the reformation of a number of prisoners 
and the reformation of a dissipated son whose rescue imperatively 
demanded removal to another place, was presented to a certain prison 
official. His opportunities for doing good were insignificant com- 
pared with Howard’s. He might reasonably expect, if he remained in 
his present position during the ensuing ten years, to restore to a life 
of honorable citizenship perhaps twenty or thirty of the unfortunates 
committed to his care. The chances, on the other hand, of the ap- 
pointment of a successor who would take an interest in carrying out 
his work were very slight. What ought he to do? 


•C/. above. Chapter III, page 44. 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 123 

One of the respondents answered the two last questions: 
“Continue the work for the prisoners;'’ whereas he held most 
emphatically that the man at the switch ought to save the child 
rather than the train; and he maintained this position even 
when the man at the switch was supposed to be the switchman 
himself, to whose negligence the peril of the train was directly 
due. When asked for the grounds for these divergent answers 
he replied that the idea of the helpless little child sitting, all 
unconscious of its fate, upon the track in front of the oncoming 
engine, had appealed so strongly to his sympathies that it over- 
came every consideration which might oppose it. And the 
strength of this appeal was due to the fact that he had a litth' 
brother of his own to whom he was devotedly attached and whom 
he pictured in this position. When asked what would have been 
his attitude if his imagination had placed his little brother in 
the train, he said he didn't think of that. 

This little experiment seems to me to reveal unmistakably the 
origin of those judgments which demand choice of family and 
other similar interests as such above all other considerations, and 
demand it, seemingly, as an ultimate deliverance of the moral 
consciousness. A moral problem is put before us in a purely 
objective way, involving the claims of family as compared with 
the claims of other persons outside of this circle. If we happen 
to have a child or a little brother of our own we immediately 
thrust him upon the stage. If not, we tend to place there an 
imaginary one. Furthermore, we place him at the center of 
dramatic interest; or, what will ordinarily come to the same thing, 
we place ourselves as father or big brother at the point of view 
of the man who is called upon to act. In consequence the beam 
immediately tips in favor of the father's interest, and we judge 
the claims which most powerfully appeal to him to be superior 
to those of all the other parties concerned. In the concrete, we 
hold that a person ought to save his little brother, or his child, 
rather than a train-load of people. All the while we suppose our- 
selves to be determining a question of right and wrong, whereas 
what we are really doing is thinking how we should most want to 
act if we found our own child sitting on the track in front of the 
onrushing train. 



124 


ETHICS 


In making this statement we have condemned all judgments 
of this class, just as we have previously condemned those based 
on our egoistic interests, and for precisely the same reason. If 
a moral judgment is to be valid it must be the outcome of an 
impersonal point of view — a point of view apart from our per- 
sonal relations to any of the parties concerned. But in the in- 
stances before us the judgment turns on the fact that it is my 
child who is being pummeled, or my friend or my relative who 
is the sufferer; or else I am imagining my child, my friend, or 
my relative as one of the parties making up the situation. 

Once more, as between a judgment based upon a subjective and 
one based upon an objective valuation the lay conscience rejects 
the former and accepts the latter as soon as the source of the 
former is clearly recognized. 

In Chapter III we made the acquaintance of a standard or prin- 
ciple to which many popular judgments conform. This principle 
was formulated thus: Where interests conflict, the interests of 
him who is ‘‘nearer” to the agent have the superior claim. The 
analysis contained in the preceding sections shows, I believe, that 
this is not a valid standard of moral judgment. 

All Judgments Based upon a Subjective Valuation Are 

Invalid 

The preceding survey has shown that certain of our every- 
day moral judgments may properly be called invalid because 
they depend upon our accidental relations to the situation under 
consideration. But it points to something far more fundamental 
and important. This is the fact that if a judgment of right or 
wrong is to be valid it must be independent entirely of how we 
chance to feel about the action because of interest or lack of 
interest on our part in one or another of the parties concerned. 
Consider some of the judgments that have just been brought 
before us. (1) It is innocent for me to use my financial power to 
ruin another man's business, but wrong for a still more powerful 
business organization to do the same thing to me. (2) It is inno- 
cent to bring about a breach of contract by offering money to a 
third party as an inducement, but wrong to bring about death in 
precisely the same way. (3) It is innocent for my son to blacken 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 125 

your son’s eyes, but very wrong for your son to blacken my son’s 
eyes. (4) It is the duty of the passing pedestrian and even of the 
negligent switchman to save the life of his own child rather than 
the lives of a train-load of passengers; but it is the duty of the 
prison warden to sacrifice his son to the welfare of a small 
number of prisoners. The first of each of these four pairs of judg- 
ments, as we have seen, is invalid. What then is the common 
characteristic which makes them such? Each is a case of sub- 
jective valuation due to the pressure of some special stimulant 
upon benevolence. The cause of the pressure in our illustrations 
was the relation of the judge to one of the parties concerned. 
But the essential nature of the flaw in the judgment is the same, 
whatever the cause of this flaw may happen to be. Eudemonic 
judgments are invalid, therefore, in so far as benevolence is influ- 
enced in favor of one party to the disadvantage of the other by 
our imagination, or our likings, regardless of what the cause may 
be that sets this influence in motion. The valid judgment, ob- 
tained by the elimination of these influences, is thus that which 
is based upon an objective valuation of the interests concerned. 

The Influence of Admiration and Kindred Stimulants 

This conclusion enables us to deal at once with the remaining 
stimulants of benevolence. The most important of these are ad- 
miration, approbation, and its normal attendant, the impersonal 
form of gratitude which I have called thankfulness. In enlisting 
our special sympathy in behalf of their object they act upon 
benevolence precisely as do love and its kindred feelings. They 
kindle our interest in the welfare of the admired person and make 
us judge: The good of those I admire ought to be preferred to the 
good of those I do not admire; and the good of the more admired 
ought to be preferred to the good of the less admired. They thus 
conflict with an objective valuation of the situation in question 
and are accordingly, as we have just seen, invalid. 

An examination of the main trend of the actual moral judg- 
ments of the race will verify abundantly the truth of this con- 
clusion. The only place where the majority of its members make 
anything approaching a firm stand in behalf of the call of ad- 
miration and its kindred forces as against the principle of ob- 



126 


ETHICS 


jective valuation is in the field of moral desert; that is to say, 
where the object of admiration and approbation is character. In 
the field of intellectual ability and physical strength and skill 
there is a greater division and a greater uncertainty of opinion.*^ 
In such matters as personal beauty, refinement of taste, agree- 
ableness of disposition, including freedom from certain attitudes 
such as gloom or conceit, pleasing manners, style in dress, ability 
to drink long and deep without falling under the table,® and 
much else, the determination of what is right as between man and 
man in accordance with the demands of admiration becomes far 
more sporadic and also far less insistent. Nowhere, in fact, from 
the lowest stages of primitive life with which we are acquainted 
up to the highest reaches which civilization has as yet attained, 
do we find any real willingness to carry through the principle 
that claims should vary according to admiration, with anything 
like consistency. As evidence of where we stand today, consider 
the outcry that would have been raised far and wide if one of the 
state industrial commissions that were trying a few years ago to 
determine what constitutes a fair wage for working girls had been 
caught laying down the principle that the pretty girls, or the 
stylish girls, or the girls that do not chew gum, ought to receive a 
minimum of twenty dollars per week, while the rest might prop- 
erly receive whatever wages their employers chose to give them. 

The preceding discussion, if sound, justifies the following state- 
ment: The proposition that the good of the more excellent has, 
as such, a superior claim to that of the less excellent (Chapter 
III, page 49, above) can not be maintained. 

The Causes op Subjective Valuation 

The causes of subjective valuation, I have asserted (above, 
page 116), are reducible to two. One of these is the one-sided 
working of the stimulants of benevolence. As it will be convenient 
to have a name for it, I shall call it favoritism. The other cause 
is indifference — indifference, of course, to the welfare of some or 
all of the parties concerned, as this welfare is affected by the 

. ’For illustrations of such judgments see above, Chapter III, page 46 ff. 

•See Hume, '‘Essay on National Character,” Works, Green and Grose 
Edition, Vol. Ill, p. 257. 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 127 

particular action which is being judged. Indifference may be 
partial or total — using these terms again with reference to the 
individuals who make up the situation under consideration. 
Partial indifference leaves room for an interest in some of the 
parties involved. Total indifference, of course, covers all of them. 
The first is more likely than not to be due to special depressants 
of benevolence, though it can sometimes be traced to inborn or 
acquired ‘'blind spots.” The second may have its source in either. 

The depressants can be divided into two classes. The first con- 
sists of such agencies as habituation, fatigue, and inattention. 
The second is dislike of some sort for one or the other of the 
parties who make up the situation. Extreme dislike tends to 
arouse active malevolence, but its moderate forms need do no 
more than cool benevolence. 

The depressants of benevolence may be temporary in their 
action, as extreme fatigue, or inattention due to momentary pre- 
occupation with other matters; or they may have permanent 
effects upon character, as the insensibility to certain forms of 
feeling in consequence of habituation. An example of the latter 
is the indifference with which the author of Seven Years at Eton 
finally came to witness the flogging of his schoolmates (aboye, 
Chapter V, page 84). 

Partial Indifference 

Partial indifference, whether due to the working of special 
depressants or not, presents no issues which have not been con- 
sidered in discussing the stimulants of benevolence. The pan of 
a balance can be lowered either by directly pushing it down- 
wards or by raising its companion. Similarly when the judge has 
to determne whether A or B has the better claim, the chilling of 
his feelings towards B will produce the same result as favoritism 
for A. Thus in deciding whether a business man who has placed 
an order with a manufacturer is justified in canceling the order 
on the approach of a serious financial panic, the judge may be 
moved to excuse him either by a vivid mental picture of the 
bankruptcy which is staring the business man in the face, or by 
inability, for whatever reason, to appreciate the situation into 
which the manufacturer, and in lesser degree the whole body of 



128 


ETHICS 


manufacturing interests, have thereby been thrust. A depressant 
may thus produce the same one-sided valuation as a stimulant. 
When it does, the judgment to which it gives rise is equally 
invalid. 

Total Indifference 

Partial indifference affects the moral judgment by warping the 
benevolence of the judge, so that the resulting judgment repre- 
sents a one-sided valuation. Returning to our analogy of the 
theater, it may be said to produce a spot-light effect by dimming 
a part of the footlights. But total indifference, in the sense of in- 
difference to the welfare of all the parties making up the given 
situation, means the dimming of all lights in the house equally, 
and where indifference is at its maximum, entirely. The result 
of this lack of interest in the welfare of others is that the inflic- 
tion of injuries which in more sensitive persons would arouse 
disapprobation is passed over without condemnation, while acts 
of self-sacrificing devotion are viewed with unconcern. That is 
to say, the one and the other are regarded as without moral 
quality, one way or the other. In extreme cases this is true, as 
was shown above. Chapter V, page 73, even when the judge him- 
self is the victim of the injury or the beneficiary of the service. 
The form which such a judgment commonly takes is that the 
agent is *^free,’^ or **has a right” to do as he pleases. 

A man of fine spirit may gradually sink into this attitude of 
mind through the corrupting effects of the social environment, or 
through the working of internal factors, such as the mental 
exhaustion consequent upon disease. But not infrequently the 
explanation of this phenomenon is to be found in native poverty 
of endowment. When this indifference to the good of others is 
complete or approximately complete we have the ‘‘moral im- 
becile” (Chapter V, page 71). “When I kill a person I have 
no more feeling about it than when I drink a glass of wine,” said 
Lacenaire, a youthful Parisian criminal who had committed a 
score of sordid murders, and had apparently never, from the 
beginning, felt the slightest tinge of self-reproach.® A man of 

®Lombro8o, UUomo DeUnquerUe, cited from the French translation, 
Vol. I, p. 366. 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 129 

this stamp represents a close approximation to the zero-point of 
benevolence. Between such as he and the highest levels of sensi- 
bility and insight there are, of course, innumerable steps. While 
most primitive peoples exhibit high standards of judgment and 
conduct in their relations to members of their own tribe, they 
commonly regard those who are outside of the tribal pale aS 
rightless; and this attitude persists among many civilized na- 
tions. “The Greeks have no more duties to the barbarians than 
to wild beasts,’^ wrote Aristotle. A creed not very different from 
this was being preached industriously by certain Europeans and 
Americans before the World War, and the voices of some can 
still be heard in the land. Many of us regard animals, especially 
wild animals, as Aristotle did the barbarians, and feel not the 
slightest condemnation when, for example, they are allowed 
slowly to starve to death in a trap in order that my lady may 
have her fur coat. Again most members of the European race, I 
suppose, recognize more or less completely the obligation to 
refrain from seriously injuring others, but their conceptions of 
the duties of positive service are decidedly hazy. Then there is 
the more or less sporadic appearance of moral “blind spots** in 
persons perhaps otherwise normally endowed, which usually 
shows itself as insensibility to the effects of some one kind of 
action, say fraud in business or niggardliness in charity, accom- 
panied by average reactions at most or all other points. Put these 
and all the other similar phenomena together and you get some 
conception of the enormous role played by indifference in the 
field of moral judgment as well as in that of action. 

The relation of such facts as these to the problem of objectivity 
is, I think, clear. Where there exists some impersonal interest in 
all of the parties that make up the situation, but the judgment 
favors the interest of less intrinsic importance rather than the 
greater, the judgment, as we have seen, is invalid. Clearly, then, 
the judgment will be — if I may use the term — even more invalid 
when it treats the greater interests not merely as if they were 
less, but as if their value were zero.* 

♦See Notes, VIII, “The Propriety of the Term ‘Subjective Valuation* 
as Applied to Judgments Due to Indifference,” p. 500. 



130 


ETHICS 


Judgments upon Situations Where Conflict of Interests 

Is Absent 

We have been dealing exclusively thus far with judgments upon 
the rival claims of incompatible interests. Not all eudemonic 
judgments, however, belong to this type. There are any number of 
actions where no such conflict takes place. They may become 
the object of approbation or disapprobation, just like the others. 
When, for example, a stranger inquires from a passer-by the 
way to the railroad station the latter may perhaps not subject 
himself to the slightest inconvenience in responding to the re- 
quest. If he gives the desired information the observers will 
ordinarily approve, if they think anything about it one way or 
the other. Should he be known to refuse out of mere indifference 
or churlishness they will be likely to condemn him. 

I mention these obvious facts merely in the interest of com- 
pleteness of description. It is clear that judgments upon situa- 
tions of this sort introduce no new element into the problem 
we are studying. They are subject to precisely the same varia- 
tions as the others, and are to be pronounced valid or invalid 
according to the same criteria. For example, a completely egoistic 
man might fail to condemn a passer-by who refused, out of sheer 
indifference, to direct a stranger on his way. His judgment would 
have no more validity than that of any other egoist who regarded 
as innocent a murder committed for the sake of getting the 
victim^s money. 

Summary of Our Discussion of the Valid Form of the 
Eudemonic Judgment 

The conclusion which seems to be justified by our survey of 
the varying forms of the eudemonic judgment is as follows. As 
we have seen, all these judgments fall into two classes; they 
are based upon either an objective or a subjective valuation. 
The former only are valid because they alone conform to the 
essential feature of the meaning of right. This conclusion gives 
us as the valid form of the eudemonic judgment the following 
principle: That volition is right, and that volition only, which 
aims to bring into existence the greatest amount of good attain- 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 131 

able under the conditions, including here under good, the most 
favorable possible balance of good over evil where some evil is 
unavoidable.* 

The Place of Consistency in Our Moral Judgments 

The preceding reasoning rests upon a certain assumption— 
an assumption at once so familiar, so obvious, and so necessary 
that it may well have escaped the attention of the reader. It 
must, however, be brought into the foreground and made an 
object of special scrutiny, if for no other reason than that its 
truth is at least implicitly denied by Subjectivism. The assump- 
tion is that only those moral judgments can stand the test of 
reflective criticism which together form a mutually consistent 
system. In other words, if two moral judgments are inconsistent 
with each other (or, in common parlance, contradict each other), 
one or the other of them is declared, and is properly declared, 
to be incorrect or invalid. 

The evidence for the fact that the lay conscience actually does 
regard inconsistency as involving invalidity stares us in the face 
at every turn. When King David discovers the inconsistency be- 
tween his condemnation of the rich man who seized the poor man^s 
one lamb, and the absence in himself of self-condemnation for 
having Uriah killed and taking his wife, he does not say “What 
of it? my feelings differ in the two cases, and one judgment is 
precisely as good as the other.^^ On the contrary he recognizes 
at once that if the rich man's action is a piece of high-handed 
violence his own is deserving of no better name. The same prin- 
ciple holds for a person who finds himself regarding as entirely 
innocent the incitement to break a contract, while considering it 
the equivalent of murder to incite a person to commit murder. 
Similarly Mr. Crother's visitor, the forger, felt he had to find 
a difference between raising checks and stealing umbrellas in 
order to vindicate his justification of the one and his reprobation 
of the other.^® 

The lay conscience thus refuses to stand by moral judgments 

♦See Notes, VIII, “The Possibility of Escaping from a Subjective 
Valuation,” p. 501. 

” See above, Chapter III, page 47. 



132 


ETHICS 


which are recognized as being mutually inconsistent. This refusal 
finds its explanation and therewith its justification in the very 
nature of morality as the expression of an ideal. A moral ideal 
or standard is an approved program or plan of action. Con- 
sistency is nothing more nor less than persistency in following 
such a program ; or, in other words, it is ''the exercise of the same 
spirit through a variety of measures.” A program of action is 
adopted for some reason. Consistency means that, the situation 
remaining unchanged, the reason which starts us continues to 
determine our course throughout. 

It is true that all of us are at one time or another inconsistent 
in our volitions and often consciously so. The impulses of the 
moment, the superior attractions of the immediate over the more 
remote future, and the play of a score of other forces often make 
our actual path the zigzag of a drunken man. A person may be 
inconsistent, for example, in his fears, abandoning now the pur- 
suit of some good because of the apprehension of some possible 
danger, and later deliberately taking what he knows to be a 
far greater risk for an end of perhaps distinctly less value to 
himself. Again he may sacrifice present ease or comfort for the 
sake of some permanent good on one day, and on the next day 
throw away all he has thereby gained and more to avoid a repeti- 
tion of the same sacrifice. He may keep a promise to his own 
cost at one time and later break another of essentially the same 
nature. He may give wisely, unostentatiously, and liberally to 
the support of charities and other deserving causes and drive his 
creditors to despair by his delays, his shiftiness, and trickery in 
paying his debts. As a parent, a teacher, or a judge, he may im- 
pose as many different penalties for the same offense, committed 
under the same conditions, as there are days in the week. These 
things and others like them we do. But when we "sit down to 
a cool hour” and reflect upon our life we always resolve to be, 
or at least wish we had the strength to be, consistent. In a certain 
small town in which it was generally believed that tubercular 
infection could be carried by clothing, a rummage sale was once 
held for the benefit of an antituberculosis campaign. At this sale 
three suits of clothing, which came from homes where there was 
tuberculosis in the family, were sold, and knowingly sold, with- 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 133 

out any attempt at disinfection. What does the reader infer when 
he is told of this incident? He probably infers what the author 
does, namely, that the people in charge of this sale were not really 
interested in the public health. We feel driven to this conclusion 
because we find it diflScult to believe that a case of inconsistency 
so palpable as this could actually take place in a sane mind. 
Every voluntary action has a purpose. Inconsistency means a 
partial or total destruction of this purpose. It is inherent in the 
nature of the human will that a man should not at the same mo- 
ment wish to work for the realization of a given end and to 
work against it, should not attempt to create and destroy the 
same thing. This is precisely the essence of inconsistency, not 
only in morals, but also in the pursuit of purely private interests, 
in the sphere of public policy, of law, or of any other field of 
human endeavor which is important enough to call for a pro- 
gram or plan of action of any sort. In other words, consistency 
is an integral feature not merely of a satisfactory moral ideal, 
but of any ideal or program of action whatever. We are, of course, 
often unaware of our inconsistencies, and when we are half aware 
of them we frequently try to conceal them from ourselves for 
many and obvious reasons. Furthermore, we are rather indifferent 
to inconsistency in trivial matters, such as capitalization and 
punctuation. But precisely in proportion to our feeling for the 
importance of the interests at stake do we recoil from tearing 
down with one hand while we build up with the other. And since 
the moral ideal is an ideal for all conduct, both the conduct of 
self and that of others, since it represents the way in which we 
desire every human being to act, and is thus the most compre- 
hensive and important of all our ideals, inconsistencies here are 
even less tolerable than they are anywhere else. Thus the will 
that creates moral standards must, in virtue of its inmost nature 
as will, demand the removal from these standards of whatever 
inconsistencies they may be found to contain.^ * 

“If an inconsistency is glaring enough it is apt to appeal to us as very 
much of a joke. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 
the City of Mexico once informed the parent society in New York with 
great pride that they had raised a large sum of money for the prosecution 
of their beautiful work by means of a bull fight. 

* See Notes, VIII, “Consistency in Law,” p. 501. 



134 


ETHICS 


The demand for the elimination of all inconsistencies from 
our moral judgments means that some principle or plan of action 
lies, consciously or unconsciously, at the foundation of their re- 
quirements. For consistency, as we have seen, is persistency in 
following a plan of action; it is “the exercise of the same spirit 
through a variety of measures.’^ Of two inconsistent judgments 
one is to be rejected. But the maxim gives no information as to 
which this one is. The clue for the formation of a harmonious 
moral ideal is supplied by the fact that judgments recognized 
as due to the influences proceeding from our accidental relations 
to the situation are universally regarded as invalid. But what is 
the essential feature of such influences? They are forces which 
turn benevolence aside from an objective valuation. If so, then 
the same spirit requires that all judgments that are due to forces 
which affect benevolence in this way, whatever their origin, be 
regarded as invalid. A benevolence consistently, or persistently, 
or in plain English, always determined by the demands of an 
objective valuation, thus affords the sole standard of valid 
eudemonic judgments. 

The truth of this conclusion, be it observed, is quite inde- 
pendent of the success or failure of any attempt on my part to 
present a complete picture of the forms of the eudemonic judg- 
ment. Even if there are a number of specimens still in hiding 
the principle will hold for them which we have found reason 
for applying to those which are in the open: All judgments which 
are incompatible with an objective valuation are as such invalid. 
If in the preceding sections of this Chapter I have carried my 
enumeration of forms farther than was necessary in order to 
reach this position, I have done so primarily to give the reader 
some conception of the great variety of phenomena compre- 
hended under the name of the eudemonic ideal, and to enable him 
to see for himself in the concrete precisely wherein the invalidity 
of each class consists. 

The Validity of Dysdemonic Judgments 

In the light of these findings we may now turn to the last of 
our problems, that of determining the place in a valid moral code 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 135 

of the dysdemonic judgment. This demands, as we saw in Chap- 
ter II, the infliction of punishment, not as a means to the refor- 
mation of the wrong-doer or the protection of society, but as an 
end in itself. When, therefore, in the present section we discuss 
the problem of inflicting punishment, we shall mean the visiting 
of suffering upon the wrong-doer merely for the sake of making 
him suffer. Whether the agent who inflicts the punishment be 
the victim, or his family, or friends, or the state, or God, makes 
no fundamental difference in the principle, and will accordingly 
be ignored in the treatment of the subject. In our description of 
the facts in Chapter II we saw that the claims of retributive 
justice, as it is called, are widely accepted, not merely among 
W'hat we regard as the lower races and the more primitive states 
of civilization, but also in our own day and among our own 
people. What are we to say to such claims? 

As we must all have observed at one time or another, when 
the average layman demands the execution of the law of retalia- 
tion, the severity of the punishment demanded is apt to depend 
upon the intensity of his anger. When very angry (whatever the 
cause) he calls for heavy punishment, when slightly angry, for 
light punishment; and not infrequently, wdien entirely unruffled 
and composed, for no punishment whatever. Now the preceding 
studies have shown us that any such casual attitude in matters 
so vitally affecting the welfare of human beings is absolutely 
contrary to the spirit of morality. An ideal of conduct which may 
properly be called a moral ideal can not be the expression of 
haphazard impulses or passing gusts of emotion, but must form 
a whole, based upon fixed principles. Not the anger whose ardor 
and extent are the plaything of a mass of chance external cir- 
cumstances and internal conditions, but an anger (or if you 
prefer the term, indignation) having its source in an impersonal 
attitude towards wrong-doing consistently maintained, can alone 
serve as the basis of a system of retributive punishment whose 
claims are entitled to even a moment’s consideration. 

If this be true it follows that if the inflicting of punishment 
simply for its own sake is to be regarded as a duty it must be 
obligatory, not merely in the case of those wrongs which for 



136 


ETHICS 


whatever reason happen “to get on our nerves,” but for all 
wrongs. This must include not merely sins of commission, but 
also sins of “forbearance,” or refusal to act, and sins of inad- 
vertent omission.'* It must of course apply to oneself and one's 
family as well as to others. That is to say, if any wrong-doing 
ought to be punished, all wrong-doing ought to be punished. If 
no machinery exists for inflicting the punishment it ought to be 
created. In its absence a person ought at least to punish himself, 
as did the little girl who put her left shoe on her right foot and 
vice versa because she had disobeyed her governess; as Boswell 
did penance for the wrong done by him to his father.'* 

But this is not the end of the matter. The amount of punish- 
ment may not be left to the whims of the moment. Some fixed 
standard must be adopted by him who believes in retribution, a 
standard which will formulate the amount of suffering or loss 
that ought to be inflicted in retaliation for the injury.'* How 
much shall this be? It must be gauged according to the amount 
of guilt. But this depends partly upon the amount of harm in- 
tended (not the amount actually accomplished), partly upon 
the state of mind of the agent, as whether he was angry, and if 
so, whether it was the victim that angered him ; whether the act 
was performed in an attack of terror or emotional strain of 
whatever sort; whether it was done on the “spur of the moment,” 
or was carefully premeditated; whether it was the first offense, or 
a repetition; and a great deal else besides, How fix the “unit 
of guilt?” And when this has been discovered — or invented — 

“See above, Chapter IV, page 54. 

“For the former incident see above, Chapter II, page 32; for the latter, 
Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Hill's Edition, Vol. IV, p. 430. 

““The judicial passing of sentence is largely a matter of arbitrariness, 
mood, and chance. This is an open secret, a painful fact of experience, to 
everyone who has been engaged in [observing] criminal proceedings. 
Whether the accused is sentenced to six, or five, or four weeks, or two 
months imprisonment, is more dependent upon the judge who happens 
to be sitting, on the subjective views of the judge, on his temperament 
and his digestion, than upon the gravity of the crime.” Wach, Die Reform 
der Freiheiisstrafe, p. 41, quoted by Aschaffenburg, Crime and Its Repress 
sion, p. 256, with the following comment: “This hard criticism, the truth 
of which is only too obvious.” When a decant man actually sees persons 
treated in this way, still more When he sees a father using his whims and 
passing feelings as the measure for the punishment of his child, he feels 
himself in the presence of one of the most brutal wrongs with which man’s 
inhumanity to man has disgraced the earth. 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 137 

how much pain is to correspond to a “unit?” When the de- 
fenders of retributive punishment have worked out all these 
problems and have shown that they are ready to accept a system 
of retributive punishment organized on some consistent principle 
and with all its implications, then and not till then will they 
be in a position to come forward and defend it. 

But even if they should succeed in meeting these conditions 
their cause would still be lost. For a moral ideal, as we have 
seen, must form a consistent system, not merely in its separate 
parts, but as a whole. The rock on which the retributive ideal 
shipwrecks is precisely this, that its demands, however formu- 
lated, are absolutely inconsistent with those of the eudemonic 
ideal. The ideal of benevolence commands: Injure no one solely 
for the sake of injuring him. The ideal of malevolence commands: 
Injure everyone you want to see suffer. The compromise ideal 
accepted by the few believers in retributive punishment who 
have made any serious attempt to think their position through, 
commands: Injure some of those whom you want to see suffer. 
The last injunction is in principle just as incompatible or in- 
consistent with the first as is the second. One of these two ideals 
therefore must be accepted as a whole and the other abandoned. 
The choice, in other words, is between a thoroughgoing benevo- 
lence and a thoroughgoing malevolence. Which shall it be? We 
can not give up the eudemonic ideal; it is the source of almost 
the whole of our moral life, and its roots go down to the uttermost 
depths of our being. Indeed it is impossible for us to do it with- 
out undermining the foundation upon which we build. For the 
dysdemonic judgment assumes the validity of the eudemonic, 
in that it demands retaliation only when the person to be pun- 
ished has acted in violation of eudemonic standards. Conse- 
quently it is the dysdemonic ideal that must give way. Its de- 
mands, then, must be declared to be everywhere and always 
without validity. 

Again, as in our study of the claims of admiration to dictate 
concerning human rights and duties, a glance at the history of 
the race may serve to confirm the truth of our conclusion. As 

"The famous principle, '‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” proposes to 
measure the amount of punishment not by guilt but by results. 



138 


ETHICS 


was pointed out in Chapter V, page 89, malevolence can arise 
in the mind without any special stimulant whatever; it then 
takes the form of what is called malicious cruelty. It may be 
set in motion by the good fortune of other persons, when we 
call it envy or jealousy. It may be awakened by physical or 
mental suffering for which its victim was neither directly nor 
indirectly responsible. It is, however, a significant factor in 
the actions of the average adult only as a response to anger. 
But anger can be aroused by stupidity as well as by wrong- 
doing; it can be aroused by sheer accident for which neither 
stupidity, nor weakness of will, nor selfishness is to blame. It 
is almost always influenced tremendously by accident, in the 
sense that the attempt to harm commonly arouses no strong 
indignation, and with it no strong demand for retributive punish- 
ment, unless it succeeds. It reaches its maximum of intensity 
when the culprit is caught in the act; but if detection is delayed 
for a time the emotional excitement will commonly be found 
to have evaporated. Finally, if anger can not reach the injurer 
or the wrong-doer, some member of his group or class, as one of 
his family or clan, his guild, his nation, etc., will serve as a fairly 
satisfactory substitute. 

These facts are written on every page of the history of moral 
ideas. When they are taken in their entirety, a generalization 
appears whose essential truth appears to be as little open to 
doubt. It is perhaps only in the form of malicious cruelty that 
we can fairly say that malevolence is universally condemned. 
But the records show that as reflection takes the place of what 
we commonly term blind impulse, the limits set to the expres- 
sion of malevolence become narrower and narrower. “Thou shalt 
not give way to thy malevolent feelings,^' calls benevolence more 
and more persistently, insistently, and effectively, with each step 
forward in the intellectual advancement of the race. What the 
reflective conscience of today has to do is to make a clean job 
of it, and once and for all to refuse malevolence any part in the 
determination of its moral judgments.* 

♦ See Notes, VIII, “The Validity of the Dysdemonic Judgment,” p. 502. 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 139 


Summary 

We may summarize some of the more important results of 
our study of ethics in the following terms. All moral judgments 
have their source in desire for and aversion from, in other words, 
approbation and disapprobation of the aim to harm or help 
some being or beings capable of experiencing good or evil. All 
eudemonic judgments express approbation of the aim to serve 
and disapprobation of the aim to harm; the dysdemonic judg- 
ments reverse these terms. Some of the variant forms of the 
eudemonic judgment are due to different answers to the question; 
Have the interests of such and such persons, or groups, any 
moral claim in the sense that to injure them or to fail to serve 
them would be wrong? The remaining ones are due to different 
answers to a farther question: Among conflicting interests, all 
admitted to have some claim, which has the superior claim, or 
“right of way?” All other variations in moral judgments are due 
to varying attitudes towards the demands of malevolence. The 
problem as to whether, among these mutually hostile and in- 
compatible standards, there is any one standard which possesses 
universal validity, and if so, what it is, can only be solved in 
the light of the meaning of the term right. The adjective right 
applied to volitions means that they are such as we desire should 
determine the actions of all members of the human race, in the 
conditions under consideration. Since it has its source in desire 
(or “the will”) the moral ideal must be a harmonious whole, 
that is, free from inconsistencies. This yields, as our complete 
and final definition of right, with its implications explicitly 
stated, the following formula: A volition is entitled to the desig- 
nation right if it is one which, when we have reduced our desires 
concerning volitions to a consistent system, we desire should 
govern the actions of all men under the given conditions. 

The inconsistencies found in the eudemonic ideal are due to 
the failure to maintain an objective valuation in determining 
the right of different persons to a realization of their interests. 
The ground on which we deny the validity of any but an ob- 
jective valuation is the fact that judgments which the layman 
clearly recognizes as based upon the influence proceeding from 



140 


ETHICS 


his accidental relations to the situation are regarded by him as 
invalid. The essential feature of these influences is that they 
are forces which so play upon benevolence as to turn it aside 
from an objective valuation. If so, the same spirit requires that 
all judgments due to forces which affect benevolence in this 
way, whatever their origin, be regarded as invalid. A benevo- 
lence consistently (always) determined by the requirements of 
an objective valuation thus affords the sole standard of valid 
eudemonic judgments. It will demand an equal concern for equal 
interests, in whomsoever they may be found. It will accordingly 
regard as invalid all judgments which pronounce the injury of 
human beings innocent, or the effort to serve them not worthy 
of moral approbation. Wherever the welfare of different 
persons is in conflict it will regard that interest, or set of inter- 
ests which, objectively viewed, is the more important or valuable 
to the parties concerned, as having the superior claim. Further- 
more, it will condemn all expressions of malevolence of whatever 
nature as being inconsistent with its spirit; and not merely here 
and there where they happen to grate on the nerves, but every- 
where and always. Thus there exists for each individual, and 
accordingly for the race as a whole, one and only one valid 
standard of morals. It may be stated roughly and in purely 
quantitative terms as follows: That action is right which aims 
to bring into existence the greatest amount of good for all con- 
cerned attainable under the conditions. Here, as elsewhere, ‘‘aims” 
refers to a purpose to realize the maximum of good, not as a 
means to an ulterior end, such as some personal good of the 
agent, but as the ultimate end of action. 

We may formulate this result in a slightly different fashion. 
The golden rule seeks to comprehend the whole of morality in 
the words: Do to others as you would that they should do to you. 
This is another way of saying: Before deciding how to treat your 
neighbor put yourself in his place. The use of this maxim must 
be guarded by the consideration that the interests of self may 
no more be blurred or ignored than the interests of any other 
person concerned. Putting these facts together we obtain a par- 
tially new formulation of the conclusions of this Chapter. It 
may be stated in the following words: That conduct is right 



THE VALID STANDARD AND ITS RIVALS 141 

which a judge would desire who was able to put himself com- 
pletely in the position of each and every person making up 
the situation, and thus to realize to the full precisely what the 
proposed course of action would mean to all. 

Our conclusion, as will be observed, is no requirement set up 
from without, representing the taste or whim of some would-be 
autocrat of the kingdom of morals. It is obtained by studying 
the workings of the mind of the ordinary man when he finds his 
moral judgments have been determined by the accidents of his 
personal relationships to the act in question, or when he finds 
that for whatever reason one of his judgments is inconsistent 
with (or ^^contradicts”) another. Under these conditions, as we 
have seen, he repudiates one of his judgments and holds fast to 
the other. All that we have attempted to do is to penetrate to 
the ultimate source of these judgments in the human mind, 
exhibit its demands, show what are the variations from these 
demands and what are their causes, and thus set forth at the 
same time the fundamental forms of the invalid judgments and 
the content of the standard which may properly claim validity.* 

♦See Notes, VIII, ^‘Moral Imbecility and the Existence of a Universally 
Valid Code,” p. 504; also, idem, ‘‘Two Conceptions of Objectivity: — A 
Note for Ethical Rationalists,” p. 504. 



Chapter IX 


SOME SUPPLEMENTARY PROBLEMS OF RIGHT 
Is There a Duty to Self? 

The standard developed in the preceding Chapter enables us to 
solve without difficulty a number of problems wdiich have been 
much discussed by moralists. The first which I shall take up is 
tlic existence of a duty to self. The average layman apparently 
is rather doubtful about the validity of any such conception. 
However, he who believes that an obligation to another person 
can ever be abrogated in his own favor, as most people do, has 
thereby involved himself, whether aware of it or not, in the 
affirmation of a duty to self. Most persons, for example, believe 
it right to break a promise, or steal for one’s own good, in cer- 
tain extreme cases. But it is possible to justify such a position 
only if there is, in such circumstances, a duty to self, which is 
more imperative than that to the promisee or owner. Our formula 
for the standard verifies this conclusion. Duty consists in the 
pursuit of the greatest attainable good, whoever the beneficiary 
may be. If this good is mine, it becomes my duty to pursue it, 
just as truly as if it w^ere that of anyone else. 

What, then, is the reason w’hy many believe otherwise? This 
opinion seems to be due chiefly to the application to morals of 
the legal principle: He who consents to the act of another can not 
complain of having been wronged (volenti non fit injuria). Most 
persons, of course, have never heard of the maxim itself, to say 
nothing of having thought out the grounds which give it a certain 
applicability in the field of law. But, as I have already insisted, 
we not infrequently come to ^Teel” the truth of certain proposi- 
tions whose subject matter lies within the range of our experience, 
by a process which, while not explicitly reflective, is nevertheless 
essentially rational in nature. Now^ it is no uncommon thing, un- 
fortunately, for A to injure B with his own consent, as in selling 

142 



Chapter IX 


SOME SUPPLEMENTARY PROBLEMS OF RIGHT 
Is There a Duty to Self? 

The standard developed in the preceding Chapter enables us to 
solve without difficulty a number of problems which have been 
much discussed by moralists. The first which I shall take up is 
the existence of a duty to self. The average layman apparently 
is rather doubtful about the validity of any such conception. 
However, he who believes that an obligation to another person 
can ever be abrogated in his own favor, as most people do, has 
thereby involved himself, whether aware of it or not, in the 
affirmation of a duty to self. Most persons, for example, believe 
it right to break a promise, or steal for one’s own good, in cer- 
tain extreme cases. But it is possible to justify such a position 
only if there is, in such circumstances, a duty to self, which is 
more imperative than that to the promisee or owner. Our formula 
for the standard verifies this conclusion. Duty consists in the 
pursuit of the greatest attainable good, whoever the beneficiary 
may be. If this good is mine, it becomes my duty to pursue it, 
just as truly as if it were that of anyone else. 

What, then, is the reason ^vhy many believe otherwise? This 
opinion seems to be due chiefly to the application to morals of 
the legal principle: He who consents to the act of another can not 
complain of having been wronged (volenti non fit injuria ) . Most 
persons, of course, have never heard of the maxim itself, to say 
nothing of having thought out the grounds w’hich give it a certain 
applicability in the field of law. But, as I have already insisted, 
we not infrequently come to ^TeeP’ the truth of certain proposi- 
tions whose subject matter lies within the range of our experience, 
by a process w’hich, while not explicitly reflective, is nevertheless 
essentially rational in nature. Now it is no uncommon thing, un- 
fortunately, for A to injure B with his own consent, as in selling 

142 



SOME SUPPLEMENTARY PROBLEMS OF RIGHT 143 

him whiskey when he knows it will lead to his ruin. The attitude 
tow^ards this transaction taken by many laymen is identical 
with that of many students in ethics tow’ards Mr. Gye’s offer to 
Miss Wagner (sec Chapter VIII, page 119) : The saloonkeeper is 
not at all to blame for his part in bringing about the disaster. 
From this it seems a short step to the position that w^hen A is B, 
i.e., when B injures himself, he is not morally blamewwthy. 

Are There Morally Indifferent Actions? 

A second problem has to do with the existence of the morally 
indifferent. It asks in effect wliether the area of duty is co- 
extensive with that of life? If that action is right which makes 
not merely for the good of someone — perhaps every significant 
action does this in one w\ay or another — but for the greatest 
attainable good of all concerned, it follow^s that every voluntary 
action has moral significance, is either positively approvable, 
or blameworthy. For every such action cither is, or is not, in- 
spired by the desire for the greatest good attainable at the time. 
In the latter event it falls short of wliat it ought to be, and is 
in so far w’orthy of condemnation. 

The appearance of the contrary is due to the fact that often 
several quite different actions will fulfil the same function equally 
well; just as there may be tw’o or more routes between my house 
and my office of exactly the same length. Our duty to pay our 
debts can usually be met in only one way. But the claims of 
health, recreation, and much else, can ordinarily be satisfied by 
a number of different modes of conduct. And the range of choice 
may be still farther enlarged by the fact that even when, to the 
eye of Omniscience, some alternative may be better than its 
rivals, w^e in our half-blind gropings along the pathway of life, 
may be unable to discover any effective difference between them, 
and are therefore obliged to treat them as if they are all on 
the same level. 

Can a Man Do More Than His Duty? 

The conclusion just reached prepares us for a third problem: 
Can a man do more than his duty? Again the answer follows 
directly from our formula. It is our duty always to aim at the 



144 


ETHICS 


realization of the greatest good attainable under the conditionH, 
whatever it may be, and to whomsoever it may fall. He who 
should do '^more than his duty*' would thus have to sacrifice his 
own greater good for the less good of others. But if he has a duty 
to self such sacrifice would be wrong. 

As before, we turn from this conclusion to the question: Why 
has the layman ever thought differently? He has usually re- 
garded men as having a somewhat limited but rather sharply 
defined range of duties, whether of action or forbearance, in 
relation to those who are not members of their own family. If 
unfaithful to these duties they are worthy of blame. If they 
have performed them, they have done merely what they were 
bound to do, and are entitled to no particular praise. Whatever 
goes beyond this, however, is praiseworthy or meritorious; but 
the omission, on the other hand, ought not to be visited with 
blame. 

These distinctions have their source in the limitations of 
human benevolence. Among European races of the twentieth 
century the obligatory includes respect for the life and physical 
well-being of others, their property, their good name, and the 
integrity of the family, each in its more obvious forms; it in- 
cludes furthermore veracity and faithfulness to promises, and 
positive service to one’s family, (less definitely) to one’s most 
intimate friends, to other individuals in dire need or in great 
danger, and to one’s country in time of foreign invasion. If a 
man has any benevolence whatever, he will w’ish to see the 
corresponding acts universal. Farther than this his interest in 
human beings may not carry him. In particular, he may not wish 
to sacrifice himself beyond this point; and since we always try 
our utmost to keep our self-respect, he may fail to condemn in 
another what he does not wish to practice himself. 

The above forms of action and forbearance represent, then, 
about all the average man really cares to do for his fellows, and 
thus about all he ordinarily does. Therewith enters a second 
factor. Our satisfaction in any possession, or situation, is in 
approximately inverse ratio to the extent to which we take it 
for granted. Thus it has been said that a man with a toothache 
thinks everyone with sound teeth happy. This principle is of all 



SOME SUPPLEMENTARY PROBLEMS OF RIGHT 145 

but universal application. We learn to expect a certain average 
of conduct in human beings. Its presence thereupon arouses no 
particular satisfaction. Only that which rises above this average 
is the object of special enthusiasm. On the other hand, the failure 
of expectation is followed by vigorous dissatisfaction. But the 
absence of that which we do not expect causes little or no feeling. 
This is as true of our attitude towards the intellect as towards 
the character of our fellows. In Goldsmith’s “deserted village” 
the schoolmaster was a prodigy of erudition, whereas in London 
he would have been nothing in particular. 

The distinction which people make between the obligatory 
and the praiseworthy is thus essentially artificial. It is this be- 
cause the position of a given amount of attainment on a scale 
of excellence can not depend upon the number of persons who 
succeed in reaching it. There have been periods of the world’s 
history, such as the seventh and eighth centuries in western 
Europe, when society has been all but dissolved into its elements 
by long-continued orgies of crime. Murder in all its forms, the 
murder of benefactors or parents, murder aggravated by dis- 
loyalty or treachery, murder as the climax of unimaginable tor- 
ture, other forms of violence in every conceivable variety, fraud, 
dissimulation, disloyalty, breach of faith, treachery — these hor- 
rors, born of a rapacity, licentiousness, revengefulness, or 
malicious cruelty that knew no restraint, made earth a hell. In 
such a world a man who has even once been held back from fol- 
lowing his wdll by any moral scruples whatever, is an exceptional 
person, and appears, by contrast, almost a saint. As for the rest, 
it is true that we make certain allowances for them, in view of 
the influence of their environment, just as we do for a child 
brought up in a gang of thieves.' None the less, murder remains 
murder, oppression remains oppression, treachery remains 
treachery, whether practised by one or a thousand. That is to 
say, what kind of conduct you may expect, in the sense of pre- 
dicting, is one thing; what kind you can approve, is an essentially 
different thing. As a matter of fact there exists in the field of 
morals an absolute standard for the measurement of excellence, 
even though it be never attained by weak human nature. It is 
'See below, Chapter XIII, page 252. 



146 


ETHICS 


none other than the one universally valid ideal. According to 
the extent to which a man’s conduct conforms to its demands 
— making due allowance for the influence of the environment — 
does it stand high or low on the scale. 

Objective and Subjective Rightness 

We have been studying thus far the extent of our duties. We 
now turn to certain ambiguities of the term right. 

Suppose a man avenges himself upon one who has injured him 
or a member of his family, in the belief, however mistaken, that 
it was his duty to do so; how are we to judge him? I answer 
in the first place that a man ought to follow his deliberately 
formed convictions of duty, wherever they may lead. If you 
think not, what alternative w^ould you suggest? On the other 
hand, a man may be responsible for his opinions, as for anything 
else. A physician, for example, may really believe his patient has 
appendicitis; but the cause of the belief may be that he was 
too lazy as a medical student to learn to make a difficult diag- 
nosis, or that he has been too lazy since graduation to keep up 
with the progress of medicine. On the other hand, the explanation 
may lie in the fact that he is so anxious to have the money 
which he would get by an operation that he can not ‘'see straight.” 
The ultimate object of the moral judgment, as we have seen, is 
character.* For anything whose source is character, therefore, we 
are responsible; for whatever docs not proceed from it we are 
not. Now a man’s character may have a great deal to do with 
his judgments of right and wrong, just as with any other opinions. 
We all tend to see things as we want them to be. We are past 
masters in the art of throwing dust into our own eyes. This is 
true of our duties as of everything else. And in the survey w© 
have just completed we have discovered how subtly self-interest 
may intertwine itself with our judgments, even when we have not 
the slightest suspicion of its presence. Most of us know some 
extremely egoistic person who makes preposterous demands upon 
us in perfect good faith, and feels very badly treated when he 
is refused. But he would think us impudent self-seekers if we 
asked him to perform similar services for us. Sir Willoughby 

■Chapter FV' above, page 61. 



SOME SUPPLEMENTARY PROBLEMS OF RIGHT 147 

Patterne, in Meredith’s Egoist, is an illustration of this kind of 
a double standard. Indeed we may go farther. All the criminal 
psychologists agree with Dostoevsky (see above, Chapter V, 
page 71) that the great majority of precisely the worst criminals 
feel no remorse for even their most atrocious delinquencies. But 
remorse involves self-reproach. They have accordingly committed 
murder and all the rest of the crimes charged up against them 
quite without self-condemnation. One of the great novels of our 
generation, Bojer’s The Power of a Lie, shows with perfect 
fidelity to truth how a man of ordinary, commonplace morality 
may, through following one moral misstep by another, gradually 
sink to essentially the same level as these outcasts, finally reach- 
ing a point where he can whitewash his dirty soul after its foulest 
deeds, to his own complete satisfaction. In all these cases it is 
obvious that the man’s judgments, whether upon others or him- 
self, are determined in the last resort by his own character. 

We may conclude that while a man can not be expected to do 
anything else than follow his own convictions of right (for if, for 
w^hatever reason, he thinks someone else better informed and 
adopts this person’s opinions, they thereby become his own) 
nevertheless he may be condemned for his convictions if and 
in so far as they are the outcome of laziness, indifference, active 
selfishness, a malevolent spirit, or whatever other limitations or 
faults of character may affect one’s views of one’s duties. In 
passing judgment upon the judgments of your fellow-men, there- 
fore, in so far as it is possible to distinguish between the contribu- 
tions of each, render unto the intellect the things that are thef 
intellect’s and to character the things that are character’s. This 
injunction undoubtedly is sometimes quite beyond our power to 
obey, wdiether from the complexity or the paucity of our data. 
And the problem is rendered doubly difficult by the fact that 
men pick up many of their notions of right and wrong from the 
community about them, and indeed, within certain limits, must 
and ought to do so. Nevertheless, however difficult the application 
may be, the principle itself is perfectly simple. 

These facts point to an important ambiguity in our moral 
vocabulary. When I say. It is right to save a train-load of people 
rather than one’s child, I am using the term right as in the pre- 



148 


ETHICS 


ceding Chapter. That is to say, I am applying a principle which 
— if our reasoning was sound — ^will be recognized as binding by 
anyone who has worked out his moral judgments into a consistent 
system. But when I say, A was right in saving his child, I may 
mean merely that A’s choice was determined by his belief that 
our children's lives have a higher moral claim upon us than the 
lives of strangers. This ambiguity may be eliminated by dis- 
tinguishing between two kinds of rightness. When the volition of 
the agent is directed to the realization of that set of interests 
which he believes to have the highest claim, his conduct may be 
called ‘^subjectively right.” When his volition is directed to the 
realization of that set of interests which actually has the highest 
claim, his conduct may be called “objectively right.” There are 
some objections to this terminology, but its convenience will 
serve as its justification. 

Inner and Outer Rightness 

There is another ambiguity in the everyday use of the terms 
right and wrong. One person might assert: It is right to adminis- 
ter an overdose of morphine to a patient in the last stages of 
cancer because it would relieve the patient from unnecessary 
suffering and would do no one else any harm. Another might 
assert: It is wrong for a physician to give poison under any 
circumstances whatever, because it would be likely to lead to 
very serious abuses. Evidently these two opinions differ, not 
with regard to the moral qualities of the volition, but with regard 
to the nature of its results. 

Here then is a second ambiguity. Right may signify that a 
volition is satisfactory either because it is subjectively or be- 
cause it is objectively right. It may mean, on the other hand, 
that the results are satisfactory, in the sense that they are such 
as would be obtained by an objectively right volition which at- 
tained what it aimed at. If the conclusions of the last Chapter 
are sound, a volition is objectively right when it aims at the 
greatest attainable good of all who will be affected by it. Accord- 
ingly an action is right in this latter signification of the term 
when it actually results in the maximum of good attainable by 
the agent under the circumstances. 



SOME SUPPLEMENTARY PROBLEMS OF RIGHT 149 

These two kinds of rightness may perhaps be distinguished 
as inner and outer rightness, respectively. Inner rightness con- 
sists in the will to produce certain results; outer rightness is a 
name for the results which a man ought to will to produce. If 
we adopt this terminology, however, we must never forget that 
outer rightness does not express moral approbation at all, since 
the morality of an action is determined by its aim, not its conse- 
quences. On the other hand, it is intimately related with rightness 
in the moral sense of the term, for it represents what a man 
ought to aim at who is aware of the effects which his actions, 
will produce. Thus if a physician believes that to poison a patient 
suffering with cancer will in the end do more harm than good, it 
would be wrong, in the moral sense, for him to yield to the plead- 
ings of his patient for relief from his agony. 

When we ask, ‘'Did A do right on such and such an occasion?^’ 
we are commonly inquiring concerning the nature of his volition. 
On the other hand, when we ask, “Is it right to act in such and 
such a way under given conditions?^’ we are commonly inquiring 
concerning results; w’e are asking whether the results would be 
such that a man who saw them in their entirety would be morally 
justified in seeking to bring them into existence. 

There is nothing remarkable in the fact that the words right 
and wrong have more than one meaning. In reality they have 
half a dozen. We may speak of a road, or a clock, or the answer 
to a problem, as right or wrong. Wrong comes in the end to be 
applied to almost anything that we wish should be different, 
and right to anything with which we feel at peace. 

The distinction between inner rightness, or satisfactoriness 
of volition, and outer rightness, or satisfactoriness of result, 
accounts for many differences in the use of the term right which 
can not be explained in terms of the facts presented in the pre- 
ceding Chapter. Some people affirm it is wrong to give an over- 
dose of morphine to a patient in the last stages of cancer ; others 
deny it. Some people aflfirm it to be wrong to steal bread in order 
to save life; others deny it. These differences of opinion do not 
necessarily point to differences in moral standards; they may 
represent different views of effects. Such differences of opinion 
are coming and going all the time with the progress of human 



160 


ETHICS 


knowledge. For example, the science of hygiene has for the past 
half-century been issuing a series of new commandments: Thou 
shalt not spit on the sidewalk; Thou shalt not, as hotel owner, 
offer thy guests a roller towel; Thou shalt not compel the pas- 
sengers under thy care to drink from a common cup. Very 
different are our ways, in these matters, from those of our grand- 
parents. But the spirit underlying them is not the creation of 
our generation; it is that which bids us do nothing to spread 
disease. The new requirements proceed from new views of effects. 
And they represent new ideas, not in ethics, but in bacteriology.* 

The Reference to the Field of Action 

The effects of an action can only be determined by an analysis 
of the field in which the action takes place, an analysis through 
which there is obtained an accurate and comprehensive view of 
all the relevant facts in their relation to each other. The relevant 
facts of a situation are those a knowledge of wdiich would make 
a difference in the judgment. If the ultimately valid standard is 
that of the greatest attainable good, the facts to be determined 
are of three kinds: (1) Who will be affected by the pro- 
posed action; (2) in what way (favorably or unfavorably); (3) 
to what extent. This means that all the effects, direct and in- 
direct, must be traced out, and then they must be weighed as 
accurately as possible. ^*A11,” of course, must be understood in 
relation to the other requirements of life. The effects of even an 
apparently insignificant act may spread to the ends of the earth, 
and endure till the last man dies. But there are limits beyond 
which our mind can not trace them and we are not bound to 
attempt the impossible. Furthermore some things which are in 
themselves possible, are not “compossible’'; that is to say, they 
are mutually exclusive. Most decisions must be made within a 
limited time, and by beings of limited energies. If we put them 
off until we have obtained certainty we arc likely to discover, as 
did Hamlet, that to refrain from acting is to act. 

In analyzing the field of action w^e must not fail to note that 
the character of the effects produced by our volitions is deter- 

♦ Sec Notes, IX. '^Judgments of Outer Rightness Consist of an Estimate 
of Results and a Moral Judgment,” p. 505. 



SOME SUPPLEMENTARY PROBLEMS OF RIGHT 151 

mined not merely by the nature of these volitions themselves, 
but also by the nature of the material upon which they impinge. 
Strawberries, which nourish some persons, make others sick. 
Certain chemicals are harmless to the normal stomach, but act 
as poisons when it is in an acid state. A stone thrown produces 
different effects according as it hits a granite wall, a sand bank, 
a mahogany dresser, a pane of glass, or a child’s body. Accord- 
ingly in considering the effects of our volitions upon human beings 
we may have to take into account their special needs, interests, 
temperament, past history, plans for the future, intellectual abili- 
ties, and often health and physical vigor. 

One or two illustrations will perhaps make the preceding state- 
ments a little more concrete. A young woman of ability, after 
having graduated from the university, remains at home for two 
years upon the insistent wish of her parents. Then, feeling she 
can endure a life in the gilded cage of idleness no longer, she 
raises in her mind the question whether she would not be justified 
in entering upon a career which she believes would interest her 
and in which she might expect success, but which w'ould necessi- 
tate her leaving the city in w^hich her father and mother live. 
What ought she to do? Obviously, the question can only be an- 
swered after a thorough examiindion of the situation. What is 
the health, w^hat is the vigor, w’hat is the age of the parents? Are 
there other brothers or sisters, married or not, living in the same 
city? In other words, what arc the needs of the parents, physical 
and social, and w’hat other provisions are available for meeting 
these needs? Could the young woman find a satisfactory career 
of some other kind in the same city w^hich would permit of her 
living at home? Is the financial condition of the parents such 
that at their death she will have to look after her own economic 
w^elfare in case she does not marry? Has she special gifts in 
some one direction so that the proposed career means excep- 
tional usefulness to the community? These are a few of the 
questions for which she must find the answer before she can 
determine what she ought to do. 

Here is a problem from the field of business. It is suggested 
by Justice Holmes, of the United States Supreme Court, in the 
course of one of his illuminating decisions. In a village in ^ 



152 


ETHICS 


remote comer of New England, too small to support more than 
one store, a young man is considering the establishment of a 
second store. His success will mean the ruin of the other store- 
keeper, an old man who has long been engaged in this business. 
What ought he to do? A proper reply involves an examination 
of three sets of interests, each conceived in the various possible 
circumstances by which it may be surrounded. There is first 
the situation of the older man. Has he a family dependent upon 
him? If so, could they take care of themselves if they had to? 
Has he saved enough to live on? Has he children who are able 
to take care of him? Next we may consider the situation of the 
younger man. Has he a considerable range of effective choice? 
Would other fields offer him as favorable an opportunity? Has 
he a family dependent upon him for support? Finally there are 
the interests of the community. For example, would its needs be 
met with appreciably greater effectiveness if the new store were 
established? These are a few samples of the questions which 
ought to be asked by a man who knows that his business success 
in a given place would mean the ruin of a fellow-being less well 
fitted than he to fight the battle of economic life. 

It is true, then, in morals as everywhere else, that “circum- 
stances alter cases.” They make no change in the fundamental 
standards; but they help to determine the direction in which 
the moral spirit finds its expression. If so, one of the most im- 
perative of duties is the cultivation of intelligence. For this is 
the instrument which we must employ in determining accurately 
and completely the consequences of our volitions. We are morally 
bound to seek to bring into existence the best possible conse- 
quences. The failure to do so through avoidable ignorance is thus 
one of the most culpable of all forms of negligence. 

The Standard or Outer Rightness 

The analyses of this Chapter will prepare us to understand 
the precise nature of the problems of applied ethics. This science 
deals with the concrete ends at which w’e ought to aim in a given 
field of action, and (wuthin certain rather undefined limits) the 
means by which these ends can be attwned. It confines itself, in 
other words, to problems of outer rightness. According to the view 



SOME SUPPLEMENTARY PROBLEMS OF RIGHT 153 

expounded in this book that conduct is outwardly right which 
brings into existence the greatest amount of welfare attainable 
by the agent under the conditions, for all who will be affected 
by it. When we say “greatest attainable amount,” we are as- 
suming that the good and evil experiences of life differ from each 
other quantitatively, that is to say, that one experience may have 
more of good in it than another, that it is possible to estimate 
the relative amounts of goodness and badness, at least roughly, 
and that evil may be treated as a negative quantity, as a man’s 
liabilities may be reckoned against his assets. On this view 
“greatest attainable amount of good” means the greatest attain- 
able surplus of good over evil, and must be so interpreted 
throughout. 

It is asserted by many moralists that there are also qualita- 
tive differences between goods; that some are higher than others, 
and, as such, ought to be chosen, regardless of differences in 
quantity. We shall consider this position in Chapter XX. What- 
ever our conclusion, our formula remains true as far as it goes. 
It is not merely true, it is useful. For, on any view of the relation 
of quality and quantity, a large number of the most important 
problems involve primarily or solely quantitative considerations. 
One lie or one breach of trust, for example, may produce a far 
more complete loss of confidence than another; one piece of care- 
lessness may result in the death of one person; another in the 
death of a hundred. The expenditure of a certain sum of money 
may do more good in one place than in another; as where we 
give or lend money to a brilliant and industrious student from 
another state, instead of to a lazy and indifferent student who 
appeals to us merely because he happens to come from the same 
state or city as we do. An act of the legislature limiting the hours 
of work for women in stores and factories, or forbidding children 
under fourteen to work in these establishments, unquestionably 
produces great hardships in individual instances here and there, 
but is approved by public opinion on the ground that the re- 
sultant good overbalances the evil. 



Chapter X 


iESTHETIC JUDGMENTS UPON CONDUCT AND THE 
INTRINSIC VALUE OF CHARACTER 

The preceding account of the moral consciousness has confined 
itself entirely to one side of the moral life. It has shown men 
valuing actions as a means to an end; approving, for example, the 
volition to tell the truth because of the benefits likely to flow 
from it in the way of a correct view of fact. But right and 
wrong are not infrequently used in everyday life to characterize 
a different aspect of conduct. And the phenomena arising from 
this fact must be understood if we are to deal in thorough- 
going fashion with the great problem of ethics, the nature of 
the valid standard. We turn, therefore, to the study of a group 
of judgments wdiich may be called, in the broad sense of the 
term, sesthetic. 

Beauty of Character 

In the attempt to do our duty in that station of life in which 
we have been placed, to obey with loyalty, to serve with faith- 
fulness, to endure without complaint, to face danger or loss 
without flinching, certain qualities of character are revealed 
which enkindle direct admiration apart from any considerations 
of their usefulness. Our aspirations for the possession of these 
excellences are voiced by Oliver Wendell Holmes in the well- 
known lines from The Chambered Nautilus beginning, 

**Build thee more stately mansions, 0 my soul.” 

Our longing for the existence of nobility of character in the world 
about us, even when we know the actions it creates will be abso- 
lutely useless, finds expression in Austin Dobson’s sonnet upon 
Don Quixote. 


154 



^ESTHETIC JUDGMENTS UPON CONDUCT 155 

''Behind thy pasteboard, on thy battered hack, 

Thy lean cheek striped with plaster, to and fro, 

Thy long spear levelled at the unseen foe, 

And doubtful Sancho trudging at thy back, 

Thou wert a figure strange enough, good lack, 

To make i^nseacredom, both high and low, 

Rub purblind eyes, and (having watched thee go) 

Despatch its Dogberrys upon thy track. 

Alas, poor knight! Alas poor soul possest! 

Yet would today when Courtesy grows chill 
And life’s fine loyalties are turned to jest 
Some fire of thine might burn within us still ! 

Ah ! would but one might set his lance in rest 
And charge in earnest — were it but a mill.” 

These facts have been aflBrmed by Kant in words that ought 
to have made it forever impossible to ignore the admiration and 
reverence with which we look upon a noble character. “A good 
will,” he writes, "is good not because of what it effects, but 
simply by virtue of the volition. If with its greatest efforts it 
should yet accomplish nothing, it would still, like a jew^I, 
shine by its own light as a thing which has its whole value in 
itself.” ^ In his denial of extrinsic value to character, Kant is as 
one-sided as a writer like Spencer who recognizes only the ex- 
trinsic factor. Nevertheless in calling attention to the intrinsic 
worth of the virtuous will he has performed a service of the 
greatest importance. 

The .Esthetic Judgment upon Conduct 

We admire, then, certain traits of character directly. When 
we admire anything we also wish that it should exist. Hence 
arises the demand, which we make both upon ourselves and 
others, that conduct shall be aesthetically attractive. In persons 
of exceptional sensitiveness to this aspect of life, conduct which 
appeals to them as admirable (more particularly heroic con- 
duct) will be demanded even when the benefits accruing from 
it are insignificant in comparison with the sacrifice which it will 
involve; indeed, perhaps even when the benefits drop to zero. 
How such minds will work is shown in the returns from an 

^Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, Sec. 1 (Abbott’s 
translation of Kant’s ethical works, p. 10). 



156 


ETHICS 


investigation made in 1906, for which 100 students at the Uni- 
versity of Wisconsin, fifty men and fifty women, supplied the 
material. They answered a series of casuistry questions, among 
which was the following: 

At the burning of Moscow in 1812, two guards at the royal palace 
were, in the confusion, forgotten and the order to relieve them was not 
given. They therefore remained at their posts and were buried under 
the burning timbers. Was it their duty to remain when they knew there 
was nothing to guard? If not strictly their duty, would you think 
less of them for making their escape? 

The great majority of the students answered in the spirit of 
the poet who wrote: 

'The boy stood on the burning deck 
Whence all with sense had fled.*' 

A few others were inclined to believe that the best interests of 
discipline required them to remain. 

'Theirs not to reason why 
Theirs but to do and die,*’ 

as one of them quoted for my benefit. But amidst this chorus of 
utilities could be heard a far different voice: 

"These guards are certainly to be admired for their firmness. Not 
one out of a hundred would have done the same, and so we would 
naturally not think it was their duty to remain there. [The writer 
moans that they ought not to be actually blamed for leaving.] But 
even if not strictly their duty, I would think less of them for making 
their escape. Because the former shows a determination and fixed- 
ness of purpose elevating one’s moral character not shown in 
escaping.” 

Three there were — all women — ^who took this position. And 
although the written answers were slightly ambiguous, a search- 
ing oral examination proved that the ground of the judgment 
was in each case admiration of the beautiful. Other questions 
put orally to these same students disclosed the fact that this 
attitude was not something accidental or unique, but that it was 
the determining factor in a rather wide range of decisions. 



iESTHETIC JUDGMENTS UPON CONDUCT 157 


Admiration for Power of Will 

That quality in character which arouses our direct admiration 
may be called beauty. Beauty of character, like beauty in the 
world of nature, has a number of forms. To each of these will 
correspond a different species of judgment on conduct. The great 
majority of these judgments, however, represent our response 
to a single stimulus; that, namely, which was illustrated in the 
preceding paragraph. It may be called **moral sublimity.” Like 
the sublime in nature, it is due to the exhibition of power, in this 
case the power of the wdll. In their higher manifestations the 
display of strength, courage, fortitude, and untiring patience 
arouses the emotion of sublimity as unequivocally as does the 
ocean or the starlit vault of heaven. Our feelings in the presence 
of such characters are well described by a popular lecturer in 
the following account of the mother of one of his classmates: 

“There is a strength in that woman that can endure any trial and diffi- 
culty without wavering; a devotion that has no thought of self; an 
ability to make the commonplace, ordinary duties of life seem more 
ennobling and elevating than works in literature, art, and philosophy. 
What is the secret of it all I can not say; but there is something in 
that mother which is great and rare. When 1 think of her it gives me 
a sense of awe, like the feelings we have when looking at the stars, 
or into the mysteries of life through the microscope.” 

Only in its higher manifestations, to be sure, is the will capable 
of arousing the emotion of awe. But even in its more common- 
place forms strength of will evokes an admiration which seems 
to differ from the preceding rather in degree than in kind. So 
that everywhere and always will power is valued not merely 
because of its utility, but also because of the admiration which 
it directly evokes. The judgments in which actions are declared 
to be right because of the beauty of character exhibited in per- 
forming them, may be called ‘^aesthetic judgments.” * 

•For concrete examples of this kind of beauty see the following char- 
acterisations: Herman Grimm on Savonarola, in Lije of Michael Angelo, 
Ch. Ill (Eng. tr., Vol. I, p. Ill); John Richard Green on George Wash- 
ington, in Short History of the English People, p. 779; a review of the| 



158 


ETHICS 


Ib Conduct Ever Called Morally Praiseworthy Solely 
Because of Its Beauty? 

It is one thing to admire conduct, it is quite another to pro- 
nounce it morally praiseworthy. Everyone admires the courage 
of the Moscow soldiers, for instance, but only a very small per- 
centage of persons find anything in it worthy of moral approba- 
tion. It is easy to explain the attitude of the majority. They 
say: These soldiers were not attempting to do any good by re- 
maining. If the guards considered themselves bound to remain 
because they thought it necessary for the maintenance of dis- 
cipline in the army to obey all orders without reasoning, that 
would be another matter. But unless they stayed with a view 
to accomplishing a useful purpose of some kind their action w’as 
folly or worse. But how explain the attitude of the three young 
women who — as w^as shown by a careful cross-examination — 
never once thought of the relation of unquestioning obedience 
to army discipline, and were perfectly aware that the guards 
knew nothing was left in the palace to protect and that their 
standing at the palace gate was a matter of mere form? 

In the attempt to solve this problem the following supple- 
mentary question was given (orally) to these persons. The inci- 
dent referred to is related by Guyau, in his Sketch of Morality 
Independent of Obligation or Sanction. 

A number of workmen in a French village were wheeling limestone 
in barrows to a lime kiln, into which they were throwing it through an 
aperture in the roof. In so doing, one of the workmen slipped and fell 
and was precipitated into the chamber below. There was no possibility 

career of Theodore Thomas, founder of the Chicago Orchestra, in the 
Dial, Vol. 38, 1905, pp. 227-230. The beautiful in character is more apt to 
appeal to us when presented through literature than when we come into 
contact with it in real life. One reason is suggested by Brooming in Fra 
Lippo Lippi. 

“For, don’t you mark? we’re made so that we love 
First when we see them painted things we have passed 
Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see.” 

Another reason, partly identical with the preceding, is that we often live 
too near the real man to see him as a whole. An insect crawling over a 
statue would never become aware of its beauty though endowed with 
the most exquisite sesthetic perceptions. So it is with us, except as we 
deliberately stand back and bring onr friend’s character in its completeness 
before the inner eye. 



^ESTHETIC JUDGMENTS UPON CONDUCT 159 

of rescuing him, even if life was not extinguished instantly. The interior 
glowed with a heat of many hundred degrees; the walls and ceiling 
were curved like those of a bee-hive. Nevertheless the five workmen 
who followed him threw themselves successively into the kiln after 
their fellow-laborer and perished as he did. Do you think l>etter of 
them morally for so doing? 

Two of the three students at once replied that such action w^as 
WTong; it was a mere throwing away of one's life. But the third, 
the beauty-loving daughter of a beauty-loving race, nourished 
from childhood upon stories from Plutarch and Rollin, still re- 
sponded as before that this was what the highest type of man 
must do. And they must do it (in reply to another question) even 
if they had families dependent upon them for support. “What 
wwld be their motive?" I asked. “That is impossible to answer," 
was the reply; “something mysterious, indefinable." “Suppose 
they did it in order to show their courage?" “Then it would be 
revolting." “You understand," I continued, “that they knew 
perfectly well there was absolutely no hope of their rescuing 
their comrades?" “Yes," she replied, “but I think such things 
are not altogether vain. I have had several experiences where 
in reading of such things they have seemed to reveal and prove 
the existence of elements in man higher than mere flesh, divinity 
in man. They seem a kind of evidence for immortality and the 
existence of God," From this answer we may infer, I think, that 
for this young woman the gap between aesthetic admiration and 
moral approbation w’as bridged by the consideration, more or 
less confusedly lodged in her mind, that this act of blind heroism 
w’as of use, indeed of the highest use, after all. If this is true of 
her, the most thoroughgoing of the three respondents in devotion 
to an aesthetic ideal of life, it probably holds, in some fashion, 
for the other two also; although I am unable to present any 
direct evidence for the hypothesis. 

This conclusion is strengthened by the outcome of a second 
investigation, made by Miss Grace Pugh, a graduate student in 
the University of Wisconsin, several years later. She asked 
(among others) the question about the Moscow guards, and 
obtained precisely the same results as were obtained in the 
earlier investigation. Of fifty male undergraduates none found 



160 


ETHICS 


anything morally praiseworthy in the refusal to escape where no 
good of any kind could result from remaining; of fifty women, 
forty-seven took the same position. The other three were then 
asked, orally, certain supplementary questions of which the fol- 
lowing proved to be the crucial one. 

A passenger on one of the great Atlantic liners accidentally falls 
overboard. There is, and can be supposed to be no hope of saving him. 
Under no conceivable circumstance will an ^ocean greyhound’ stop to 
rescue a drowning man. The time is winter, the sea is running furiously, 
and the man in the water can not possibly sustain himself for more 
than a few minutes. There is therefore no help for him from any source 
whatever. A fellow-passenger who has seen the accident and who fully 
realizes that a rescue is absolutely impossible, leaps into the sea after 
the drowning man. What is to be thought of the moral character of this 
act? 

Two of the three respondents at once declared it morally un- 
necessary. The third replied that if the second man could 
swim, his action would be morally praiseworthy; otherwise not. 
A man swimming till he sank from exhaustion would at all 
events look from the steamer deck as if he were trying to 
perform a service. For this respondent, accordingly, all that seems 
to have been needed to turn an a?sthetic into a moral judgment 
was some suggestion or semblance of utility in the admired action, 
however superficial. 

The problem set by the ©sthetic judgment upon conduct, as 
we remember, is as follow's: Most persons admire such traits as 
will power, but only a very small minority find anything morally 
praiseworthy in those exhibitions of it which are known by the 
agent to be absolutely useless. However this minority exists. 
How explain its attitude? My suggestion is that in these excep- 
tional cases the satisfaction at some actual though not intended 
usefulness (as in the first example), or at some semblance of use- 
fulness (as in the second), fuses with a very intense admiration 
for beauty of character, and, aided perhaps by the will to be- 
lieve that what is greatly admired may be properly demanded, 
leads to the characterization of the action as praiseworthy in 
the moral sense. I must add that the influence of Aesthetic con- 
siderations in producing moral judgments is most widespread 
where the factor of utility does not stand at zero, as in the above 



^ESTHETIC JUDGMENTS UPON CONDUCT 161 

illustrations, but where it is so small in comparison with the 
sacrifices required of the agent that if it were not for the glamour 
thrown over it by admiration the deed could never command 
approval. Such fiBsthetic-utilitarian judgments are fairly com- 
mon. They are part of the stock in trade of novels of adventure.® 

^Esthetic Judgments, as Such, Are Not Moral Judgments 

Whatever may be thought of the preceding explanation, it is 
certain that aisthetic judgments are not moral judgments in the 
proper sense of the word. The object of the moral judg- 
ment is the attempt to realize a given end. But the object of 
aesthetic admiration is not to be found in the nature of the 
adopted end, but in a certain quality exhibited in the pursuit of 
an end; a quality, moreover, which can be found alike in the 
noblest and in the most atrocious of purposes, in the career of 
a Washington and the career of a Napoleon.® In other words, 
courage, fortitude, self-control, perseverance, and similar traits 
are not in themselves moral qualities, but are rather qualities 
which acquire moral value according to the nature of the ends 
in the pursuit of which they are exhibited. 

There is nothing novel in the idea of a judgment upon conduct 
which is not a moral judgment. On the contrary, there are a con- 
siderable number of such judgments, with most of which we have 
been familiar all our lives. Samuel Johnson, in characteristic 
fashion, illustrates one of them — the demand for dignity — as 
follows: 

^^Johnson’s profound respect for the hierarchy made him expect from 
bishops the highest degree of decorum; he was offended even at their 
going to taverns. ‘A bishop' (said he) 'has nothing to do at a tippling 
house. It is not indeed immoral in him to go to a tavern ; neither would 
it be immoral in him to whip a top in Grosvenor Square. But if he did, 
I hope the boys would fall upon him and apply the whip to him. There 
are gradations in conduct ; there is morality— decency — propriety.' ” * 

* For another exploration of the field of cesthetic judgments, the author's 
“Objective Study of Some Moral Judgments,” in American Journal of 
Psychology, Vol. 9, p. 221 ff, may be consulted. 

•“Beautiful as a tempest, as an abyss,” writes Renan of the career of 
Caesar Borgia (quoted in Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics, seventh Edition, 
p. 108). 

® Boswell, Life of Johnson, Hill Edition, Vol. IV, p. 87. 



162 


ETHICS 


Antxpathbtic Judgments 

In the preceding paragraphs I have been describing certain 
characteristics of conduct which make it attractive, apart from 
its usefulness. There are also forms of conduct which arouse 
direct feelings of repulsion apart from any thought of the harm 
that may result from them; and these actions in consequence 
are frequently called wrong. Some instances of such feelings are 
quite beyond our comprehension, presumably because we are 
not acquainted with all the facts. Lecky writes; 

we were to measure the criminality of different customs by the 
vehemence of the denunciations [of the early Church Fathers] we 
might almost conclude that the most atrocious offense of their day 
was the custom of wearing false hair, or dyeing natural hair. Clement 
of Alexandria questioned whether the validity of certain ecclesias- 
tical ceremonies might not be affected by wigs; for, he asked, when 
the priest is placing his hand on the head of the person who kneels 
before him, if that hand is resting upon false hair, who is it he is 
really blessing? Tertullian shuddered at the thought that Christians 
might have upon their heads the hair of those who were in hell, and 
ho found in the tiers of false hair that were in use a distinct re- 
bellion against the assertion that no one can add to his stature, and, 
in the custom of dyeing the hair, a contravention of the declaration 
that man can not make one hair white or black. Centuries rolled 
away. The Iloman Empire tottered to its fall, and floods of vice and 
sorrow overspread the world ; but still the denunciations of the 
Fathers were unabated. St. Ambrose, St. »Terome, and St. Gregory 
Nazianzen continued with uncompromising vehemence the war 
against false hair, which Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria had 
begun.*’* 


It should be said that the feeling of repulsion against this 
practice appears to have had its source in the fact that the hair 
was ordinarily obtained from a dead body. But it must be 
observed that we have to account not merely for the immediate 
feeling, but also for the condemnation of those who offended this 
feeling as guilty of a horrible violation of the moral law. 

But however remote from our experience certain of these 


History of European Morals, 3rd Edition, Vol. II, p. 140. 



^ESTHETIC JUDGMENTS UPON CONDUCT 163 

antipathies, as we shall call them, may appear to be, others are 
almost universal in their distribution, some of them being found 
alike among the uncivilized and civilized races of man. The 
most important varieties are two. The first is disgust at certain 
kinds of sensual indulgence. Of these the leading forms arc 
those directed towards eating and sexual relations. The former 
is at the basis of most of such reprobation as exists against glut- 
tony, and in civilized society has had much to do with the build- 
ing up of one branch of la petite morale, our code of table man- 
ners. The latter is discussed by Professor James in his Principles 
of Psychology, Vol. II, pages 437-439, to whose account I have 
nothing to add. The most widely distributed and important 
manifestation of this feeling is the horror of incest. The second 
of the tw^o principal varieties of antipathetic emotion is contempt 
for weakness of will, in its many forms; first of all, for cowardice 
in the face of death or wounds; then for lack of fortitude under 
unescapable pain; then for inability to control anger and the 
solicitations of sense and of case. As intelligence advances the 
same reprobation is visited upon lack of patience, of persever- 
ance, of moral courage (willingness to face social obloquy), and 
of moral fortitude (external calmness under other forms of 
suffering than physical pain). Contempt, it must be observed, 
is a positive emotion and is by no means equivalent to dis- 
appointed expectation at the failure to exhibit will power. 

Disgust and contempt, in themselves, are not due to a percep- 
tion of the harmfulness of the conduct w^hich awakens them. 
For in the case of many harmful actions they do not arise at 
all, as in attacks upon life or property provided no suggestion 
of cow’ardice enters, in breach of contract, and indeed in most 
other WTongful acts. Nor could the influence of utilitarian con- 
siderations explain w’hy incest and cow^ardice, respectively, arouse 
feelings so different from each other as disgust and contempt. 

Is Conduct Ever Called Wrong Solely Because op Its 
Immediate Repulsiveness? 

It is one thing, as we have noted, to feel a direct antipathy 
for a certain action, it is quite a different thing to call it wrong. 
Whether conduct is ever called wrong solely because of these 



164 


ETHICS 


antipathies is a difficult matter to decide. In the case of con- 
tempt we must probably answer, ‘‘No.’' The best single piece of 
evidence for this position is our attitude towards the absence 
of certain forms of physical courage in women. These, broadly 
speaking, are not needed by them; their absence, therefore, ordi- 
narily does no particular harm. At all events they were not 
needed in the “sheltered life” which, for the most part, women 
have hitherto lived in civilized society. Put by the side of this 
the fact that usually women are not severely condemned for 
want of physical courage. It is almost impossible to suppose that 
these two facts have no connection. The conclusion which, it 
seems to me, may be drawn from this parallelism is further 
confirmed by the partial disappearance of this difference in atti- 
tude in recent years, which has accompanied the emergence of 
women from the protective confines of the “sheltered life.” This 
statement does not contradict the assertions of the previous para- 
graph. The contention here is not that contempt is due to a per- 
ception of the harmfulness of certain actions, but that it will 
not lead to the stigmatizing of conduct as wrong except as there 
is, at least in the background of the mind, a belief that the 
action (or forbearance) in question is actually harmful — whether 
the purpose to harm was present in the mind of the actor or not. 
In other words, my view of the relation of contempt and the 
use of wrong is identical with my view of the relation of ad- 
miration and the use of right. Such a parallelism, it may be re- 
marked, is what, on the whole, might be expected in advance. 

At bottom, I believe this same relationship will be found to 
obtain between disgust and moral condemnation, though the 
facts in this case are somewhat more obscure. A person with a 
lively imagination can think of a hundred disgusting things a 
man could do at a dinner table. We might say he had no right 
to do them in our presence because they would nauseate us. But 
if he was quite ignorant of the effect upon our feelings, or was 
alone (and was known by us to do them) we should doubtless 
say he was a disgusting brute, that he was no gentleman, and 
should probably cut him dead; but we should never think of say- 
ing he had done wrong. More than that, where the disgusting is 
useful, as in some of the work of the nurse or the doctor, we 



.ESTHETIC JUDGMENTS UPON CONDUCT 165 

think that the necessity they are under of subjecting themselves 
to these experiences throws a certain halo of heroism about their 
calling. 

When, therefore, the disgusting is called wrong the reason is, 
I believe, that at least in the back of the mind there is always 
the idea, however vaguely formulated, that the practice is harm- 
ful (not necessarily that the agent intends harm). What does 
the ordinary man know of the harmfulncss of incest, it will 
be asked, when even the experts differ as to the effects of tlie 
marriage of near kin? I reply, he presumably knows and thinks 
nothing of the effects of such marriages upon the offspring, which 
is the subject on wdiich the experts differ. But there are other 
equally important effects which are entirely within the range of 
his vision. If brothers and sisters W’ere accustomed to look upon 
each other as possible husband and wife the purity of family life 
would be distinctly endangered. If daughters grew up to be the 
rivals of their mothers, genuine family life would be at an end. 
For a family whose members had to be chaperoned would not 
be, properly speaking, a family. Thus the direct rcpulsivencss of 
incest is a powerful protector of the most precious thing in the 
w’orld, the freedom and intimacy of the home. And if the or- 
dinary layman does not see these consequences he is none the 
less capable of “feeling’’ them (Chapter II, page 28). 


Antipathetic Judgments, as Such, Are Not Moral Judgments 

But whatever reason may be assigned for the fact that our 
antipathies are often a factor in our stigmatization of conduct as 
WTong, it is clear that in so far as judgments are based solely 
on these feelings they are, like the aesthetic judgments upon 
conduct, pseudo-moral rather than moral. The reason for this 
assertion is that they are not judgments upon the direction of the 
person’s volitions. They express rather our feelings upon certain 
by-products which may appear in the course of carrying out our 
volitions. This becomes clear when we ask ourselves the ques- 
tion whether the disgusting as such can be regarded as wrong. 
The answer is that, some of the most disgusting actions, as we 
have already noted, such as those which are not infrequently 



166 


ETHICS 


required of the doctor or the nurse, take on a character akin to 
heroism precisely because they are so repellent. 

The Extrinsic and the Intrinsic Value op Character 

The material which has come before us in this Chapter will, I 
believe, help to settle a controversy which, has long raged in 
ethics. It concerns the problem whether the value of character 
(and conduct) is extrinsic or intrinsic. A thing has an extrinsic 
value in so far as it is valued for its utility, or in other words, 
as a means to an end. An illustration is a current coin. An object 
has an intrinsic value, on the other hand, when it is valuable 
for its own sake, as an end in itself. A beautiful Greek coin 
will serve as an example. It goes without saying that an object 
may have both values at the same time. 

In ethics one school of writers, of whom Herbert Spencer may 
be taken as an example, have recognized solely the extrinsic 
value of character. According to them character is valued, like 
a bank note, only for its effects upon the welfare of the person 
or persons within the range of its influence. Others, like Kant, 
have insisted solely upon the admiration and reverence with 
which we look upon the noble character and have found here the 
one source of its value. 

In the light of our survey of the moral life it is easy to see 
that both schools are right in what they assert, wrong in what 
they tacitly or explicitly deny. Character has both an extrinsic 
and an intrinsic value. It is certainly valued for its fruits; and 
this valuation, as chapter after chapter of this book has shown, 
determines the content of our moral standards, and in fact lies 
at the very foundation of our moral judgments. It is with equal 
certainty valued for its own sake. Suppose it were true that what 
we sometimes call the material interests of the various members 
of society were so perfectly adjusted to each other that every 
individual in best serving himself served equally well all others 
also. We should still remain unsatisfied, though living in perfect 
peace, security, and comfort, if all these services were the prod- 
uct merely of self-regard. For we want a world in which there 
is such a thing as devotion, loyalty, self-forgetfulness, a direct 
interest in others, a direct interest in ils, and the capacity for 



^ESTHETIC JUDGMENTS UPON CONDUCT 1C7 

self-sacrifice. Shakespeare, who certainly knew what was in the 
heart of man, bears witness to this fact in immortal lines: 

'Tired with all these, for restful death I cry. 

As to behold desert a beggar bom, 

And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity, 

And purest faith unhappily forsworn. 

And gilded honor shamefully misplac’d. 

And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted, 

And right perfection wTongfully disgrac’d, 

And strength by limping sway disabled. 

And art made tongue-tied by authority, 

And folly — doctor-like — controlling skill, 

And simple truth miscall'd simplicity, 

And captive good attending captain ill.” 

These are not the words of a man who is afraid he will be injured, 
rather of one who is sick at heart at the spectacle of the baseness 
of human nature and the ugliness of human life. The tone of the 
sonnet, as more than one critic has noticed, strikes the keynote 
of Hamlet. For Hamlet’s melancholy is not due primarily to the 
death of his father but to the destruction of his faith in humanity 
through the shameless disloyalty of his mother. The world, for 
him, 

"is an unweeded garden, 

Things rank and gross in nature 
Possess it merely.” 

The Two Forms of the Intrinsic Value of Character 

The intrinsic value of character is two-fold. That is to say 
there are two reasons w’hy w’e want men to possess the character 
from w’hich right actions flow, apart from the usefulness of these 
actions either to self or to others. The first is the beauty of such 
a character, as described above. The second will appear from the 
following considerations. 

All of us have been the recipients — I had almost said victims — 
of presents which we were unable to use and which may have 
been indeed a source of embarrassment to us rather than other- 
wise, and yet which we have valued exceedingly because they 
bore testimony to the good will and kindliness of spirit of the 
giver. This good will had not and was never likely to have any 
utility value because not sufficiently endowed with resources of 



168 


ETHICS 


money, power, intellectual ability, or strength. We value it be- 
cause of a deeply rooted craving which finds satisfaction in the 
mere existence in others of an interest in us, A man treads on 
our toes in a crowded street car in a great city, and apologizes 
with every appearance of genuine regret. We may be actually 
glad of the accident. We shall never see the man a second time. 
If our heart warms at the kindliness of spirit which he exhibits 
it is not because of the idea that he will not be likely to hurt us 
again. It is because we love to find a friendly disposition even 
in a total stranger. Walter Pater writes: 

“Nearly all of us, I suppose, have had our moments in which any ef- 
fective sympathy for us on the part of others has seemed impossible; in 
which our pain has seemed a stupid outrage upon us, like some over- 
whelming physical violence, from which we could take refuge, at best, 
only in some mere general sense of good will — somewhere in the 
world, perhaps. And then, to one’s surprise, the discovery of that good 
will, if it were only in a not unfriendly animal, may seem to have ex- 
plained, to have actually justified to us, the fact of our pain. There have 
been occasions, certainly, when I have felt that if others cared for me as 
I cared for them, it would be, not so much a consolation, as an equiva- 
lent, for what one has lost or suffered.^ ’ 

Our feelings of warmth for those who care for a cause in 
which we are interested represent but another application of the 
same principle. The cause in question need have no moral flavor, 
as the football interests of our university. But they will of course 
be deep in proportion as the common interests go dowm to the 
roots of life. Veterans who have fought in the same war in de- 
fense of the same country know well what these experiences are. 
The good man feels similarly drawn towards every other good 
man who is engaged in the warfare against the evils which 
aflBict humanity. A beautiful example of a conflict between love 
and the dislike which flows from divided and mutually contra- 
dictory purposes will be found in Thomas Nelson Page’s story 
Meh Lady. 

Here, then, is a second source of the intrinsic value of charac- 
ter. The good man recognizes in another good man one who is 

' Marius f The Epicurean, Ch. XXV. C/. above, Chapter V, page 70, 
the testimony of the citisen of Oakland concerning the days that followed 
the San Francisco fire. 



^ESTHETIC JUDGMENTS UPON CONDUCT 169 

interested, or is capable of becoming interested in him personally, 
and who has a common interest with him in the great cause of 
making the world a better place to live in. And he values this 
spirit not merely for its effects, but also for its own sake.* 

The Importance op the Intrinsic Value op Character as an 
Element in Human Life 

It remains to inquire what is the significance for life of the 
immediately admirable and attractive in character. The role 
which Nature has assigned it is not that of determining what is 
right and what wrong. The rightness of an action is determined by 
the good which it seeks to create. The function of moral beauty, 
therefore, is not to reveal new duties, but to supply additional 
and very powerful motives for performing old ones. Our interest 
in the good of our neighbor is all too frequently far from strong. 
Hence it stands in need of reinforcement by other incentives. 
Of these none is higher, none less liable to corruption and mis- 
use than the aspiration for a perfect character. He who 

‘loves himself 

And in that love not unforgotten leaves his honor/' 

may be counted upon to travel the same road with him who is 
most completely inspired by the “enthusiasm of humanity." He 
who, like Brutus, in Shakespeare’s Julius Ccesar, combines the 
love of his fellows with this form of self-love will reach in the 
end the utmost heights of human attainment. For this reason an 
important part of the work of making ourselves and others better 
men must consist in awakening and developing to its full strength 
the passion for beauty of character. Our antipathies have a 
function almost as important in this regard as our admirations. 
It is they, to a not inconsiderable extent, that are the source of 
the demands of what we call self-respect — the desire to keep 
oneself inwardly clean. 

Beauty of character, however, has a direct value as well as 
an indirect one. If the world of Nature were robbed of its har- 
monies of color and its grace of form, and were stretched out 

♦See Notes, X, “The Explanation of the Difference in Our Attitude 
Towards a Go^ Man and a Good Piece of Furniture,” p. 506. 



170 


ETHICS 


before the eye monotonous and bare in grays and blacks, its 
lines everywhere straight and unyielding, we might live just as 
long and be just as healthy; but life itself, the thing which gives 
length of days its sole value, would have lost much of its sun- 
shine and its charm and every day be poorer. In the same way 
it is strength, purity, devotion, and grace of character that invest 
the human world with its most enduring attractions, and that, 
after the first freshness of youthful enjoyment has disappeared, 
give life itself its strongest hold upon our affections. “We live 
by admiration, hope, and love.” And perhaps the greatest, be- 
cause the most fundamental of these, is admiration. 



Chapter XI 

THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 

The preceding Chapters claim to offer an essentially complete 
account of the fundamental moral standards of the race. This 
claim may appear to some readers as justified in its application 
to the members of our own community. But the assertion that 
it holds literally for all human beings alike, however high or low 
their place in the scale of civilization, will seem to many a piece 
of unwarranted dogmatism. I therefore wish to set forth some of 
the grounds on which this position is based. 

A systematic survey, even in barest outline, of the moral 
judgments of the race would require for its presentation at 
least an entire volume. This Chapter, therefore, must set itself 
a very limited objective. It will confine itself entirely to primitive 
man, and in this restricted field, to a small group of phenomena 
which are at once fundamental and typical. With the two ex- 
tremes, the upper and the lower cultural levels before us, I 
believe we shall have in our hands the instruments for interpret- 
ing the phenomena that lie between. With regard to the moral 
ideas of primitive man himself I shall assume that the principles 
w’hich explain the major phenomena will be found competent to 
serve as a key for the understanding of those which are more 
sporadic and less important. If this claim can be maintained, 
then beneath the superficial diversities of conflicting moral stand- 
ards there will be found to lie essential identities; and the 
human conscience may properly be regarded as in the last anal- 
ysis everywhere the same. 

When we first walk the streets of a foreign city like Paris or 
Munich we seem to be in a world inhabited by a different order 
of beings from ourselves. If the language happens to be unin- 
telligible to us it seems a symbol of the gulf which separates us 
from all that they are. But when we have lived with the French 
or the Germans long enough to know them we find them to be 

171 



172 


ETHICS 


men in all fundamental respects like those we have left behind 
us in our own country. Just this same thing has happened with 
regard to primitive man. The ordinary traveler and the cursory 
reader are often so deeply impressed with the diversities that 
they can see nothing else. In a certain sense this was true in 
considerable measure of some of the earlier professional ethnolo- 
gists. Whatever may be said of the past, however, those con- 
temporary special students whose ideas have been formed through 
prolonged immediate contact with the primitive mind are prac- 
tically a unit in their conviction that the differences between it 
and that of our own race, while sometimes large and always 
important, are at bottom differences in degree and not in kind, 
and are indeed, in the large sense of the term, superficial rather 
than fundamental.^ 

In what I have just been saying about the mind of the savage 
I have been thinking primarily of his intellectual powers. I do 
not wish, however, to entangle my argument with unnecessary 
assertions not directly germane to my task. The problem before 
us concerns the moral consciousness, and the facts here are what 
they are, let the strictly cognitive processes in the lower races be 
what you will. We turn, then, directly to the study of primitive 
moral standards. 


The Central Identities 

Man normally lives in social relations with others. For the 
first few years of his life his very existence depends upon the 
help and protection of his elders. As an adult he has a wife and 
children of his own. By preference, with the rarest of exceptions, 
he lives in acquaintanceship or friendship with other persons also, 
especially those of his own sex and in a general w^ay his own age. 
With these simple and commonplace facts before us the funda- 
mental identity of the moral endowment of the race is well nigh 
demonstrable a priori. If a social group, large or small, is to 

*See Boas, The Mind of Primitive Man, Chs. I and IV; Goldenweiser, 
Early Civilization^ Introduction; Kroeber, Anthropology, Ch. IV. C/. Hose 
and McDougall, Pagan Tribes of Borneo, Vol. II, p. 221; Rivers, The 
Todas, p. 21 ; Maximilian, Prince of Wied, Early Western Travels, Vol. II, 
pp. 284-287; Bronislaw Malinowski, Crime and Custom in Savage Society. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 173 

exist its members must conform to the conditions of existence. 
If any considerable proportion of them habitually failed to do so, 
it would be swept away and that part of the earth where it had 
dwelt would be occupied by others who were better adjusted to 
their environment. It is indeed actions, not ideas or feelings, that 
cause men and tribes to survive or perish. But moral ideals are 
the ultimate source of social actions. To be sure many forms 
of conduct which are beneficial to others are pleasurable or 
profitable to the agent himself, so that a conflict between the 
two ends docs not arise. But this harmony is never complete; 
and all too often w^here it actually obtains the agent is uncon- 
scious of its existence. Public opinion, which comes to the 
support of social interests with its words of condemnation, its 
black looks, it ostracism, and its physical penalties, can not be 
the creation of egoism.* The cement that holds society together 
is thus in the last resort the moral standards of its members. 
And these standards must be such as to welcome with approval 
those modes of conduct which make for group survival and repel 
those which drag it down to death. 

In advance of all direct acquaintance with primitive peoples, 
therefore, we may expect to find among them reprobation for 
serious cruelty or neglect of offspring (should it occur) ; for 
indiscriminate murder; for disloyalty to the group (as cowardice 
in w^ar) ; and in addition approbation for the punishment of 
cowardice and murder. 

Observation verifies what logic suggests. If no disapprobation 
for neglect of children is reported, this is only because it seldom 
or never has an occasion to show itself. Loyalty to the group 
will always be found where there are dangerous enemies to be 
repelled. No people of whom we have any record looks with 
indifference upon indiscriminate murder. On the contrary murder 
within the group is regarded as the most serious, or one of the 
most serious, of crimes. Furthermore, there is no people where 
the demand is not heard for the punishment by some one in some 
fashion for some forms of wrong-doing. 

As a matter of fact primitive morality always, or practically 
always, goes a long distance beyond these elementary require- 

*8ee above, Chapter V, pages 69 and 73. 



174 


ETHICS 


ments. It habitually extends its protection, for example, over the 
institution of property. Among a people who live primarily, or 
solely, by hunting and fishing, property is of course a very 
different sort of thing from what it is among us. Where there is 
no agriculture the land is the common possession either of the 
local group or the tribe. But unauthorized trespass upon this 
land is vigorously reprobated and repelled. Over great areas of 
what we call the savage world the products of the hunt or of the 
cultivation of the soil are so completely at the disposal of one’s 
neighbors that the conception of private property in food can 
hardly appear, certainly not in a developed form. But almost 
everywhere ornaments, clothing (if there is any), weapons, and 
tools are outside of the jurisdiction of this communistic spirit. 
In such cases the ancient rule, “Thou shalt not steal,” will be 
found to be in force. 

Nowhere, as we shall discover below, is there so much variety 
as in the views as to the proper relations of the sexes. Neverthe- 
less if we confine ourselves to what men have actually seen and 
disregard what some speculative anthropologists have guessed, 
we shall discover in every primitive tribe some regulations dealing 
with this matter. In particular, “an institution of the nature of 
marriage is apparently universal. It is improbable that custom 
has anywhere left the relations of the sexes wholly unregulated, 
and its regulations include the appropriation of individual men 
and women to each other.” * 

Parental care, loyalty to one’s group, particularly in time of 
danger, respect for the life of one’s fellow-tribesmen and also 
for such property as may exist and is not open by common con- 
sent to general use, some bridling of the sexual impulse, finally 
the punishment of him who has seriously injured others in any 
of these points — ^the demand for these things forms the core of 
the moral code alike of primitive man and ourselves. 

This conclusion may be made more concrete by means of a 
single illustration. Of the primitive races w^hich have been studied 
at first hand by competent ethnologists, one of the lowest in the 
scale of intelligence is the native Australian. A characteristic 

*Hobhou8e, Moral* in Evolution, 3rd Edition, p. 178. Cf. Simpler Peo- 
ples (by Mr. Hobbouse and others), Cb. III. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 175 

feature of their tribal life was the series of ceremonies in which 
the youth was required to participate before he was admitted to 
the status of full citizenship. The purpose of these initiations 
w*as to prepare the boy or youth to play the part expected of a 
man through the acquisition of the tribal traditions and through 
a series of experiences intended at the same time to test and to 
develop his courage, resolution, and powers of endurance. In 
one of the best known of these tribes, in no essential respect 
different from the others, the novices were explicitly taught, 
during the initiation period the following rules; 

1. To listen to and obey the old men. 

2. To share everything they have with their friends. 

3. To live peaceably with their friends. 

4. Not to interfere with girls or married women. 

6. To obey the food restrictions, until they are released from 
them by the old men.* 

Since such tribal government as can be said to have existed 
inhered in the old men, the first rule is equivalent to a demand 
for obedience to law. Of the second I will only say that it was 
intended to be interpreted and actually w^as interpreted to mean 
quite literally, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Thus 
the Kurnai code reduced to practice what with us is often little 
beyond a vague aspiration. There can be no doubt that there 
is a real difference here, but the difference happens not to be to 
the disadvantage of the Australians. The injunction to live 
peaceably with one’s friends means to do nothing to stir up 
WTath. This would involve the refraining from murder, from tlie 
stealing of wives, from the making of insulting remarks, from 
slander, and in general from all forms of injury. What the fourth 
and fifth prescriptions required we shall sec below. The first 
three certainly might well be used as a part of a ritual for the 
induction of our owm young men into the duties and privileges 
of citizenship, if we were so fortunate as to have a tradition 
calling for such a ritual. 

Differences in Outer Morality 
When we turn from identities to differences we discover what 
at first sight seems a bewildering variety of commands and prohi- 
*A. W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of Southeast Australia, p. 633. 



176 


ETHICS 


bitions, having no points of contact with anything for which we 
care. For example, Antigone, in the old myth immortalized by 
Sophocles, feels herself bound to cast three handfuls of dust upon 
her brother’s corpse, though the command of the king against 
whom he had fought threatens with death anyone who shall in 
so doing satisfy the requirements of the Greek burial ritual. 
This supreme act of self-sacrifice she lays upon herself in 
obedience, as she declares, to the “unwritten laws of God that 
know not change.” What can be the source of a conception of 
duty apparently so remote from our own? No answer could be 
more simple. She believes that should the customary funeral 
rights fail, her brother’s spirit would be doomed, like the Wan- 
dering Jew, to roam restless, homeless, lonely, and despairing 
through all the long ages that the world wdll last. She risks her 
life in order to save her brother from what she believes will be 
an eternity of suffering. Most American women would consider 
themselves bound to face the same dangers in order to save a 
brother from a fate far less terrible. The difference between 
Antigone’s ideas of duty and those of her American sister of 
today is thus a difference not in standards, but in opinions 
about the effects of a certain ceremony. In other words, it is 
a difference not in inner but in outer morality. And this, as we 
have seen, is not a difference in moral ideals at all (Chapter IX, 
page 149). 

Countless other apparent differences between the moral codes 
of primitive people and our own fall into the same category. 
What could be more abhorrent than the murder of a parent? 
Yet among the Fiji Islanders a hundred years ago it was little 
short of a social institution. The explanation here again is suffi- 
ciently simple. The Fijis believed in the existence of a spirit 
world, the counterpart of our own, only far more attractive, for 
wdiich the soul sets out immediately after death. They believed 
furthermore that body and mind live in this new world possessed 
of the same qualities, whether excellences or defects, which they 
had at the close of this life. Hence it is to a person’s advantage 
to die before his strength becomes impaired and his senses and 
mental faculties have begun to decay. In consequence, as far 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 177 

as our data permit us to judge, the majority of such deaths seem 
to have followed upon the request of the parent himself.* 

In the preceding examples conduct was guided by conceptions 
of effects which we should regard as imaginary. But sometimes 
the situation which determines the action is a grim and unde- 
niable reality. Almost every one has heard of Gatlin’s account 
of the abandonment of the aged Indian chief by his people 
when they were forced to move their camp in order to hunt the 
buffalo. He writes: 

“The tribe was going where hunger and dire necessity compelled them 
to go, and this pitiable object, who had once been a chief and a man of 
distinction in his tribe, who was now too old to travel, being reduced to 
mere skin and bone, was to be left to starve, or meet with such death as 
might fall to his lot, and his bones to be picked by the wolves. . . He 
had told [his children and friends] to leave him, ‘he was old,' he said, 
‘and too feeble to march.’ ‘My children,’ he said, ‘our nation is poor, and 
it is necessary that you should all go to the country where you can get 
meat — ^my eyes are dimmed and my strength is no more; my days are 
nearly all numbered, and I am a burden to my children — I can not go 
and I wish to die.’ ” * 

A vast number of the apparent differences between the dictates 
of our own and the primitive conscience thus represent nothing 
but differences in conceptions of the effects of actions, and, as 
such, afford no evidence for the existence of a diversity of moral 
standards. Many others again, are due to actual differences in 
particular situations, in consequence of which a standard that 
among ourselves calls for one concrete mode of conduct, as the 
care and support of our aged parents, may elsewhere require, 
or appear to require, the abandonment of the aged to their fate. 

Signs of Respect 

Intimately related with the preceding examples of outer mo- 
rality is the employment of symbols as a means of showing 

'Thomas Williams and James Calvert, Fiji and the Fijians (Edition of 
1859), p. 114; cf., p. 190. Wilkes, Narrative oj the United States Exploring 
Expedition, 1838-1842 (1845), Vol. Ill, pp. 94-97. 

'George Catlin, Illustrations of the Manners, Customs, and Condition 
of the North American Indians, 10th Edition, 1866, Vol. I, p. 216. 



178 


ETHICS 


respect. I shall say a word about this phenomenon, not because 
it is of any great theoretical importance, least of all because it 
offers any difficulties beyond the power of the most ordinary 
mind to penetrate, but because it invariably forms part of the 
stock in trade of the popular advocates of Subjectivism. Almost 
every human being, whether high or low in the scale of intelli- 
gence, craves the approval and admiration of his neighbors. 
Hence the ubiquity of the rules calling for the expression of 
respect. But even an amateur in ethics should be able to see that 
the signs chosen to indicate the presence of this feeling are 
necessarily as arbitrary and conventional as the sounds which 
express ideas. The European man takes off his hat in church 
as a sign of respect; the Mohammedan takes off his shoes. On 
meeting a friend we shake hands with him. But the members 
of an East African tribe, the Masai, **spit on each other both 
when they meet and when they part, [since] 'spitting expresses 
the greatest good will and the best of wishes.* ** ^ He who finds 
in such facts as these evidence for differences in moral stand- 
ards will find evidence for it also in the fact that where we say, 
“Good-bye,** the French say, “au revoir.*^ Such persons are best 
left to their fate. 

Taboos 

Before leaving this part of the subject it may be desirable to 
say a few words about taboos. They have little or no direct 
connection with the injunctions of morality, properly so-called. 
But since the relationship between the two is frequently supposed 
to be a peculiarly intimate one, and the former are sometimes 
actually declared to be the source of the latter, it may be 
advisable for us to clarify our ideas as to their significance. 

Primitive life is permeated through and through with a com- 
plicated system of prohibitions, many of which seem to us wholly 
senseless, but which invariably extort implicit obedience, and 
that independently of all human sanctions. They are, however, 
very far indeed from being devoid of all sanctions; for behind 
them lie all the mysterious powers of religion and magic, pitiless, 
unfailing, inescapable, ready to destroy the unfortunate trans- 

’ Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, Vol. 
II, p. 151. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 179 

gressor, as a tornado wipes out everything in its path. To prohibi- 
tions of this kind the name taboo is commonly applied, the term 
being used in a somewhat broader sense than it bore in Polynesia 
when Captain Cook first heard it, but retaining the same essen- 
tial features throughout. 

I referred above to the food restrictions, the necessity for 
conformity to which was impressed upon the novices during 
certain Australian initiation ceremonies. They are, broadly speak- 
ing, typical of thousands of others found everywhere in primitive 
society, and may accordingly supply the material for our brief 
examination of this subject. 

Let us inquire first why these apparently arbitrary regulations 
are obeyed when the old men are not there to enforce them. 
Whatever answers to this question are possible, there is always 
one w’hich represents an adequate and perfectly intelligible mo- 
tive. Problem and solution alike are stated with all desirable 
definiteness by Mr. E. M. Curr as follows: 

‘'We find our Blacks, male and female, submitting for years loyally 
and without exception to a number of irksome restraints, especially in 
connection with food, just as we Roman Catholics do to the fasts and 
abstinences imposed by the church. Now the question is, what is the 
hidden power which secures the Black's scrupulous compliance with 
custom in such cases? What is it, for instance, which j)rompts the 
hungry Black boy, when out hunting with the White man, to refuse 
(as I have often seen him do) to share in a meal of emu flesh, or in 
some other sort of food forbidden to those of his age, when he might 
easily do so without fear of detection l)y his tribe? ... My ref)ly is 
. . . that the Black is educated from infancy in the belief that depar- 
ture from the customs of his tribe is inevitably followed i)y one at least 
of many evils, such as becoming early grey, oi)hthalmia, skin eruptions, 
or sickness; but, above all, that it exposes the offender to the danger 
of death by sorcery.”* 

One reason, then — and that a sufficient one — for not violating 
the taboos of the tribe is nothing more nor less mysterious than 
that which explains why we do not handle live wdres and drink 
unboiled water swarming with typhoid fever germs, and why wt 
avoid contact with smallpox patients and protect ourselves 
against mosquito bites in districts infested wdth malarial fever. 

We may next ask why these prohibitions are imposed. Partly, 

• The Australian Race, Vol. I, p. 54. 



180 


ETHICS 


without doubt, in the selfish interests of certain members of 
the tribe. The old men in particular want to keep the tidbits 
for themselves. It is as if we should forbid turkey to the children. 
Even here, however, the selfishness is not unadulterated. For in 
the Australian bush age carries respect, because it is supposed 
to connote excellence. And excellence, as we have seen, is widely 
held to confer superior rights. But there are other reasons besides 
selfishness, whether pure or mixed with moral considerations. 
The special food taboos in force during the initiation periods, 
for example, clearly have a purpose which is identical, as far as 
it goes, with that of the ceremonies as a whole. They aim to 
make a man, that is to say a worthy member of the tribe, out 
of an unformed boy; and, at the same time to reveal how much 
manhood, measured in terms of the requirements of his individual 
and tribal life, he possesses. He is accordingly sent out into the 
bush and forbidden to eat the more common animals, with a 
view to testing and developing his powers of self-control. When 
once such customs are started, moreover, there is no reason to 
doubt that the old men are as fully convinced as anyone else 
that the magical penalties will fall upon the disobedient. Were 
they not so taught when they themselves were young? And why 
should they doubt it now they are old? ® 

Obviously the notion that the taboo is a source of morality 
is simply one form of the shop-worn idea that morality is the 
creation of egoism. I have said what I have to say on this sub- 
ject in another place (Chapter V). 

II 

Tribal Morality 

However far the distinction between inner and outer morality 
may carry us, it will not serve to explain all the facts. On the 
contrary there exist many real diversities in moral judgments 
properly so-called. Certain of these we shall now proceed to 
examine. 

* On the Australian food restrictions see Spencer and Gillen, The Native 
Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 467-473; the same authors, The Northern 
Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 611-615; Howitt, The Native Tribes of 
Southeast Australia, pp. 560-561. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 181 

On the whole the profoundest and most important difference 
between primitive standards and our own is represented by the 
phenomenon called tribal morality. This in its undiluted form 
means that a man recognizes no obligations whatever to anyone 
who is not a member of his own tribe. 

What wild beasts are to most men, that is a stranger to most 
savages. In their view his claims stand at zero and thus he is 
literally a being without any rights which they feel bound to 
respect. He may accordingly be robbed, enslaved, maimed, tor- 
tured, or killed, as policy, pleasure, passion, or wiiiin may happen 
to dictate. Of our ancestors in the forests of northern Europe two 
thousand years ago Julius Caesar WTote in that book of painful 
memories, The Gallic War: 

“In the case of all the states, acts of bri#?aiulape coniniitted outsitle 
the boundaries involve no disgrace; the ri*ast>n advanced being tliat 
by these acts the young men of the lau<l ar(‘ kept fit and pri‘vented 
from becoming slothful. And when any one of the chieftains says in 
public council that he will be leader and bids whoever is willing to 
follow so declare, those who approve both cause and man rise and 
promise their aid and are praised by the multitude.’^ 

If the victims of these raids attempted to defend themselves, 
as they presumably would, they would of course be killed. But 
this was a matter of no concern. When you are riding a beehive 
you will know how to treat any of the bees that arc so indiscreet 
as to be annoying. To men on the other side of a boundary line, 
then, the ancient German w^eis a pitiless wolf. And yet his rela- 
tions with the members of his own tribe were such that they were 
held up by Tacitus to his own fellow-countrymen as a model for 
imitation. 

The Greeks of the Homeric period were in the same stage of 
moral development. When Telemachus fares forth in search of 
his father, the much enduring Ulysses, he comes to the court of 
Nestor. The old man greets him and his companions with the 
words: “Strangers, who are ye? Whence sail ye over the wet 
ways? On some trading enterprise, or at adventure do ye rove, 

**Book VI, Ch. XXIII. For parallels among the American Indians see 
Charlevoix, Journal of a Voyage to North America, 1720-1122 (translated 
by Louise Kellogg), Vol. I, pp. 300. 310; Lewis Morgan, The League of the 
Iroquois (Edition of 1904), pp. 68-69 



182 


ETHICS 


even as sea-robbers, over the brine; for they wander at hazard 
of their lives, bringing bale to alien men/' This inquiry was 
no more intended as an insult than it would be for you to ask a 
man if he was a football player. As public opinion then stood, 
Telemachus could not be expected to object to being taken for a 
pirate. Certainly if he had protested, he would have been throw- 
ing stones at his own father. For when the latter returns home 
after his long wanderings and discovers that all his flocks and 
herds have been devoured by his wife's suitors, he comforts 
himself with the declaration: “As for the sheep that the proucj 
wooers have slain, I myself will lift many more as spoil" — from 
some neighboring people, of course, over on the mainland. 

The principle at the foundation of tribal morality is, how- 
ever, seldom, perhaps never, carried through with complete con- 
sistency. Some primitive people recognize certain laws of war, 
especially in the treatment of women and children. Many of 
them have and many more profess to have a strict regard for 
the sanctity of treaties and the inviolability of heralds and 
messengers. What is more significant, most tribes live habitually 
on friendly terms with certain of their neighbors, often with all 
their immediate neighbors. It seems clear from the testimony 
of ethnologists that in such cases the members of a friendly 
tribe are looked upon as possessing the same fundamental rights 
as a fellow-tribesman. 

The best known and probably most common exception to th^ 
principle of tribal morality consists in the recognition of a bind- 
ing obligation to extend hospitality to the stranger from without 
the tribe in his capacity as traveler. He is the object of every 
attention in the often elaborate ritual of primitive politeness. 
He is given the best seat by the fire; the choicest food available 
is placed before him; if the food supply is low his needs are 
provided for first. If he is attacked his host must defend him at 
the risk of his own life. Many people require that hospitality be 
shown even to an enemy. In some respects the most imperative 
duty laid upon the conscience of primitive man is that of aveng- 
ing a wrong done to a member of his family. Yet in certain 

^ The Odyssey (Butcher and Lang translation), Book III, p. 33. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 183 

parts of the world the plea of the stranger for food and shelter 
must be granted even though he be the slayer of your father or 
brother. 

Ordinarily, to be sure, a limit is set to the claims of the trav- 
eler. Among the Arabs of the desert, who were famous for 
their hospitality, as among our ancestors, the ancient Germans, 
the life of the obligation ran for three days when it abruptly 
terminated. Anything beyond this was apparently felt to be 
''sponging.'^ “ 

The problem raised by tribal morality is this: Can practices 
which differ so radically from any which wc approve have their 
source in a conscience built upon the same plan and working 
according to the same laws as our own? Perhaps wc may be 
able to answer this question if wc inquire into their causes. 

‘The Australian native,^* write Spencer and Gillen, “obeys 
literally the command of the Scriptures, Take no thought of the 
morrow.^ ” This means that his will is moved by the concrete, 
detailed picture; not by the abstract idea. That pale unreality, 
the self of next year, is a being for whose welfare he feels no 
particular concern. So it is with regard to others. In his dealings 
with the members of his local group and, indeed, of his tribe, he 
is very much of a communist. This seems to be due, in part, to 
the fact that he lives on terms of the most intimate relationship 
with them. “If we all ate at the same table no one would be 
allowed to go hungry.” Thus parallel with a very lively interest 
in the self of today goes an interest in those with whom he is in 
daily association. And parallel to his indilTerence to the interests 
of the self of next year seems to go an indifference to those 
whose lives are remote from his owm. Now what is true of the 
Australian “black fellow” is true, in the main, of primitive man 
as such. And in this feature of his mind is to be found one cause 
of tribal morality. 

But this is neither the sole nor, as I conceive the matter, the 
most important cause. One of the leading characteristics of all 
members of the human race, whatever the level of their civiliza- 

”C/. Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Jdeae, 
Vol. I, Ch. XXIV, ‘‘Hospitality.” 



184 


ETHICS 


tion, is inordinate corporate conceit. We are the salt of the 
earth; virtue as well as wisdom will die with us.'* All other 
peoples are beings of an inferior mould, perhaps mere reptiles 
whose place is at our feet, or under our heel. How can a real man 
have any obligations to creatures so low? The tendency of human 
nature, as we know, is to make moral claims dependent upon 
excellence. Where there is no excellence there are no rights. 
Therefore there can be no obligations to the wretched pariahs 
beyond the tribal boundary line. 

A third factor of even greater significance is a fusion of fear 
and resentment; resentment for past injuries, real or imaginary; 
fear at the possibility of future ones. Howitt points out that in 
Australia the names given to alien tribes ordinarily express either 
contempt or fear.’* Curr writes: 

“The Australian Black, without exception, nurtures, one might almost 
say from the cradle to the grave, an intense hatred of every male, at 
least of his race, who is a stranger to him. The reason they themselves 
assign for what I must term this diabolical feeling is that all strangers 
are in league to take their lives by sorcery. The result of this belief is 
that, whenever they can, the Blacks in their wild state never neglect to 
massacre all male strangers who fall into their power.^*“ 

To understand this statement is must be noted that most savage 
peoples are unable to conceive of death as due to natural causes. 
Apart from accident, it is attributed either to an evil spirit, or a 
human enemy ; in many parts of the world solely or chiefly to the 
latter. When a death takes place among the Australian aborigines 
the family at once consult some medicine man to discover who is 
responsible. He is always able to name the culprit, but never 
locates him within his own tribe, as that would be likely to get 
him into trouble. The alleged murderer thus turns out to be a 
member of another tribe. If he escapes the avenging party that 
sets out to take his life, he will forever look upon himself as 
the innocent victim of the diabolical machinations of a wicked 

“See Westermarck, Op. cil., Vol. 11, pp. 170-174. 

“Op. ctt., p. 41. 

“ Op. cit., p. 85. Cf. Baldwin, Spencer, The Native Tribee of the North* 
em Territory of Australia, pp. 37-^. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 185 

man. If he is struck down, his family and kin will be confident 
of his guiltlessness. Thus everyone concerned believes himself 
wronged, and the blood feud is on. The mutual hatred thus 
engendered thereupon tends to spread to the entire tribe. 

There are, of course, other causes of war in the savage world 
besides the fear of and anger at the practice of sorcery, together 
with their immediate and mediate consequences. There are wife 
stealing, trespass upon the tribal hunting grounds, and other 
offenses where the acts of individuals end by embroiling their 
tribes. Some primitive people have embarked more or less de- 
liberately on careers of conquest, as many of the Polynesians 
and the Iroquois in the United States. Among many peoples, as 
most of the American Indians and the primitive Germans, there 
has been an intense love of war for its own sake which has 
magnified any pretext into a just cause, or failing to find a pre- 
text, has fought anyway. In such wars one party is always in the 
wrong and often both are. Usually, or always, unbridled passions 
produce outrages which awaken the thirst for retaliation. Most 
primitive people never forgive an unexpiated wrong, and they 
hold responsible for a crime all who have sheltered and protected 
the culprit, who can be supposed to have sympathized with him, 
w^ho are willing to live on friendly terms with him, or in whose 
veins flows the same tainted blood.’® Thus comes into existence a 
vicious circle from wdiich most savage peoples never escape. 
Fear and resentment cause private and public w’ars, and private 
and public wars cause fear and resentment. 

These then are the leading factors, I believe, which combine 
to produce tribal morality. And the most important, I repeat, 
appear to be fear and resentment. The correctness of this con- 
clusion seems to be attested by two facts. One is that where the 
suspicion of death by sorcery and other causes of war can be 
kept out, members of neighboring tribes seem usually to live on 
terms of positive friendliness and to recognize the full quota of 
obligations with reference to one another. The second is of a 
similar natiire. It is the kindliness with which the white man is 
received almost everywhere in the savage world, provided he has 

“On this extension of responsibility see above, Chapter V, page 90; and 
Westermarck, Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 30 ff. 



186 


ETHICS 


not become an object of either suspicion or resentment whether 
through his own actions or those of other members of his race. 
The century-long friendship between the English and the Iro- 
quois, the perfect understanding maintained between William 
Penn and his followers on the one hand, and their Indian neigh- 
bors on the other, the beautiful devotion of Livingstone^s black 
servants to their master — ^these are famous instances. But thou- 
sands of white men, alike the illustrious and the obscure, have 
traveled among and lived with the members of the lower races, 
oftentimes for years together, without having been subjected to 
as many wrongs as they would have met in their own country; 
on the contrary, in many instances, they have been treated with 
a kindness and sometimes a devotion which belong among the 
precious records of the finest achievements of the human race. 
Catlin writes: 

“I have travelled aeveral years already among [the Indians of the 
Western plains], and 1 have not had my scalp taken nor a blow struck 
mo; nor had oectasion to raise my hand against an Indian; nor has 
my property been stohm to the value of a shilling; and that in a 
country where no man is punishable by law for the crime of 
stealing.” 

Do we find in the phenomena of tribal morality evidence of a 
moral consciousness totally different from our own? I think not. 
Contempt, fear, resentment, especially when united with feeble- 
ness of imagination and an incapacity to react to abstract ideas 
of good — these will kill benevolence and awake malevolence to 
life, especially where they are allowed to run their course for 
centuries without interruption. They have done this for primitive 
man; they would do it for us. 

Class Morality 

We have seen how each localized group— w^hether tribe or na- 
tion — tends to become separated from every other by moral 
barriers. Similarly the community tends to become divided 
horizontally into a number of layers according to the supposed 
excellence, physical, mental, and moral, of its members. The 
most important of the resultant distinctions are those based on 
sex, on the relationship of master and slave, and on social stand- 

”Op. ciL, Vol. I, p. 210; c/. Vol. II, p. 109. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 187 

ing and political power. These distinctions often carry with 
them great differences in rights and duties, the principle being 
that the greater the excellence the more extensive and unqualified 
become the rights, and the fewxr and less imperative the duties 
with respect to one’s inferiors. This phenomenon may be called 
class morality. This principle is nowhere carried through con- 
sistently to the end. It represents rather a tendency which is 
found to prevail more completely at one point in one society, 
and at a different point in some other. The forces which set them- 
selves against the erection and maintenance of these class bar- 
riers can W’ork more effectively here than they can between 
groups because here the individuals are living together, in part 
under the same roof, and always in more or less complete inter- 
dependence. On the other hand in some instances the forces w'hich 
make for tribal morality unite with class morality, as where 
slaves are foreigners, especially prisoners of w'ar; or again where 
the aristocracy is composed of a body of invaders wdio keep 
their blood relatively pure by refraining, more or less com- 
pletely, from marrying into the subject race. The outcome of the 
interaction of these agencies is a much greater diversity of 
individual forms than in tribal morality, and nothing like so 
thoroughgoing and complete a carrying-through of the principle 
itself. 

The details, if there w'cre but space to present them, W'ould 
bear out this statement of underlying principles beautifully. The 
lot of the slave, for example, is invariably better, both in respect 
to his moral and legal status and his actual treatment, where he 
is a member of the same race with his master, where he is born 
and has grown up in his master’s house, above all, as was true 
of the Greek slaves of Roman masters, wdicrc he is looked upon 
as an equal, or even a superior, in intellectual cndovrincnt. 
Indeed most moral codes require that all slaves, apart from 
condemned criminals and debtors, shall be the members of at 
least a different tribe and nation; preferably of a different and 
inferior race. Moral approval of slavery, in other words, can in 
most instances be explained by the fact that he w’hom it is 
considered legitimate to hold as a slave is outside either the group 
of the *^near” or the “excellent,” and commonly both. 



188 


ETHICS 


The detailed facts with regard to the rights and duties of 
the various classes to each other are too numerous and com- 
plicated for presentation in this place. Moreover the important 
ones are easily accessible in standard works. But there is one 
thing to which I feel I must call attention before turning to other 
matters. The attitude of the privileged towards the unprivileged 
is not necessarily — as some people seem to think — a pose adopted 
with a view to facilitating the transfer to themselves of all the 
good things of life and the rolling off upon other shoulders of 
the world’s dirty work. The contempt which they have often 
exhibited towards their inferiors was in many or most cases a 
genuine reaction based on the actual inferiority of the latter in 
those activities which all classes agreed were the most admirable. 
Thus in very many primitive and half-civilized societies the 
shortest or the sole road to honor lies through success in war. 
This means that the intellectual and moral qualities demanded 
by war are those which call forth the most spontaneous and 
enthusiastic admiration. In such a society the male heartily and 
honestly despises the female because she can not participate in 
such activities. He may respect her judgment at many points, he 
may admire many traits of her character; but as a rule he can 
not see over the fact that she is not a warrior. Now women may 
take precisely this same attitude toward themselves. “The In- 
dian,” writes Lewis Morgan, “regarded woman as an inferior, a 
dependent, and the servant of man, and from nurture and habit, 
she actually considered herself to be so.” 

As we learned in Chapter III the tendency to equate rights 
with excellence is a universal fact of human nature. We have 
therefore every reason to believe that women, slaves, or prole- 
tarians living under a regime of class morality, especially among 
a warlike people, w^ould see nothing unfair in the discriminations 
made at every turn to their disadvantage, but would look upon 
this distribution of goods and evils as a matter of simple, elemen- 
tary justice. 

All this leads to an answer of the question parallel to that 
which we raised at the end of our survey of tribal morality. Do 

^*The League of the Iroquois (Edition of 1904), Part I, p. 315, C/., pp. 
320, 329. C/. also Catlin, Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 226. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 189 


the phenomena of class morality indicate a conscience built 
according to an entirely different pattern from our own? I 
answer that in all their multiplicity they are still, for the most 
part, only variations of a single theme: Rights are a function of 
excellence. Hence they represent nothing which is foreign to the 
moral code of civilized man. 

Infanticide 

I can not leave this part of the subject without referring spe- 
cifically to the treatment of one “class,” or group in the com- 
munity, namely new-born infants; for it concerns the most 
repellent of all the practices of uncivilized man. I mean infanti- 
cide. In comparison with it slavery and the subjection of women 
and of the members of the lower classes seem relatively in- 
significant aberrations. Even here, however, we can explain the 
facts w’ithout assuming the existence of a moral consciousness 
different in kind from our own. Infanticide occurs among many 
uncivilized and some civilized peoples with apparently little or 
no personal eompunction or public condemnation. The explana- 
tions of this attitude are fear of overpopulation with its appalling 
train of evils; the bitter lot of the children, especially the daugh- 
ters of the very poor; the belief that a child born diseased or 
deformed is better off dead than alive; among the hunting 
peoples, the impossibility of moving from place to place with 
several very young children as impedimenta. An additional rea- 
son for infanticide among the Australian aborigines and else- 
where lies in the fact that “if the mother is suckling one child 
she cannot properly provide food for another, quite apart from 
the question of the trouble of carrying two children about.” 
This situation was of not infrequent occurrence among the Aus- 
tralians since suckling was continued often up to the age of three 
years or even longer. 

Such are the chief considerations which have justified in the 
eyes of its perpetrators the murder of infants where the practice 
has been at all common. To understand this phenomenon com- 
pletely, however, certain other facts must be taken into account. 
Almost everywhere the infant must be killed, usually at once, or 

“Spencer and GUlen, Native Tribes oj Central Australia, p. 264. 



190 


ETHICS 


at the longest within a very few days after birth ; in other words 
before sympathy and love for the little victim have had time to 
grow strong. Upon the expiration of the allotted time his life 
is as secure from violence as that of any other member of the 
community. Furthermore, the decision upon life or death is or- 
dinarily in the hands of the father, not the mother; and the 
father would commonly feel less love than the mother for a new- 
born child. Indeed, notliing more remote from the ways of the 
nineteenth century Caucasian world is required to explain the 
facts than the icy indifference of most slaveholders to the fate 
of the children begotten by them of slave women. Finally when a 
cruel practice becomes common the feelings often grow callous 
in that particular direction, even in otherwise excellent persons. 
Witness the way in which the sensibilities of good men who live 
in large cities become dulled to the sight of poverty w^hich is 
continually being thrust upon them. 

The phenomena of infanticide in primitive society accordingly 
seem to find their explanation primarily in the pressure exerted 
by a harsh material environment, supi)lcmented by the partial or 
complete dormancy of benevolence under certain assignable con- 
ditions in relation to certain members of the community. 

Ill 

Marriage Relations: — The Facts 

The historian of moral ideas, as we have seen, must record 
the existence of three great class divisions in human society if he 
is to explain the actual distribution of recognized rights and 
duties. Of these pairs at once the most permanent and important 
is that represented by the two sexes. But difference in sex not 
merely divides society into two classes, with their reciprocal 
obligations to each other as human beings, it also gives rise to a 
group of problems of its own. As the divergences in the solutions 
offered for these problems are among the most striking and also 
most significant which life has to show, and as they supply the 
Subjectivist with some of his favorite arguments, we shall be 
compelled to give them our attention. 

The problems in question center about the institution of mar- 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 191 

riage, and the chief topics that demand our consideration are the 
following: (1) The conditions under which marriage is per- 
mitted or forbidden; (2) the methods by which a wife is ob- 
tained; (3) the conditions under which the marriage union may 
be annulled; (4) the number of persons who may form a union 
with each other; (5) freedom of extra-marital relations. For an 
adequate picture of the bewildering mass of details in this field 
the reader must turn to the special studies on the subject. I 
shall confine myself to a bare statement of underlying prin- 
ciples. 

Practically the sole legal barrier to the marriage of sane adults 
among European peoples is blood relationship. Tlie prohibition 
of the union of near kin obtains universally, or wcll-nigli uni- 
versally, throughout the human race. In some parts of the w’orld 
it is carried much farther than others; l)ut the core of (he system 
is every w’herc the same, namely the condemnation of marriage 
bctw’cen parent and offspring, and brother and sister. Here and 
there the rule with regard to the union of the latter has been 
relaxed. But this is where a royal family, as in ancient Egypt or 
modern Siam, or wdiere a small aristocracy, as in some of the 
Polynesian Islands, has been determined to keep its blood pure 
and undefiled at w hatever cost. 

One of the characteristic features of i>riinitive morality i.s 
the addition of a second j)rohil)ition for which our society 
lacks even the necessary prc.supposition. It forbids not merely 
the marriage of near relations, but also that of members of the 
same clan. The clan is ‘^a unilateral kinship group.” Tliat is to 
say, it consists of a number of persons suj)j)osed to be the de- 
scendants of a common ancestor, and the de.sccnt is reckoned 
solely through either the father or the mother, as the case may 
be. Among the Winnebago Indians of Wisconsin, for example, 
descent w’as counted through the father. Thi.s man, his children, 
male and female, the children of his sons, and so forth, formed 
the clan. Among the Iroquois, on the other hand, it w^as the 
mother and her children, male and female, and the descendants 
of the female, that w’cre bound together in the clan. It is true 
that investigation often fails to disclose complete unity of 
descent, many clans apparently consisting of the descendants of 



192 


ETHICS 


several wholly unrelated ancestors. But belief in this unity on the 
part of its members (or failing this, a “make-believe” belief in 
it) is the foundation of its existence. The significance of the clan 
as a barrier to marriage consists in the fact that whereas you 
may perhaps be allowed to marry an own cousin who is outside 
of it, you may not marry a cousin at the remotest remove who 
is within the sacred enclosure.*® 

The clan is more permanent and in some respects more firmly 
united than the family. The latter may be rent asunder by 
divorce or desertion; not so, the former. There is no divorcing 
oneself from it, nor is the tie broken by marriage. “I know of no 
case whatsoever,” writes Professor Lowie, “in which a man enters 
his wife^s [clan] ; and of the contrary possibility the only good 
illustration seems to be that of the Toda [a hill tribe of southern 
India], where the wife adopts her husband's [clan].”*' Ordi- 
narily the members of the clan feel bound to each other by certain 
special obligations. One of the most widely recognized of these is 
that of avenging a wrong done to a fellow clansman. In some 
parts of the world the members of a clan feel the same pride in 
each other's success and shame in each other's disgrace as 
would be felt with us among the members of a family. The 
strength of the tie unquestionably varies greatly in different 
parts of the world, but where it reaches its maximum there may 
occur such an incident as the following: “Darius having offered 
Intaphernes to spare one of her relatives whom she might select, 
she chose her brother in preference to her husband or her chil- 
dren. With descent through males he was [a member of her 
clan] ; these were not.” ** 

Now wherever we find the clan system we discover that the tie 
binding its members together is felt to be of the same nature 
as that which unites members of the same family. Hence the 
prohibition against intermarriage which applies to the latter is 
transferred to the former. 

This second barrier to marriage, it must be understood, in no 

••The clan must be distinguished from the local group. The latter is 
sometimes composed solely of members of the former; but very often it 
is not. 

Primitive Society, p. 115. 

•• Fison and Howitt, KamUaroi and Kumed, note on p. 125. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 193 

way destroys or interferes with the first. Parent and child, for 
example, may not marry under any circumstances, though the 
latter is necessarily a member of a different clan from one of the 
parents.** 

In the European world of today, as we all know, the typical, 
though not the sole method of obtaining a wife is through an 
agreement entered into directly by the principals themselves. In 
primitive society, on the other hand, the typical, though again 
not the sole method, is by purchasing her from her parents, 
somewhat as you might a horse. You may offer material goods 
of one sort or another, or, lacking these, you may pay in personal 
services, as Jacob paid for Leah and Rachel. Sometimes where 
the conditions of life exclude these two forms of barter an ex- 
change of a different nature will be effected: A gives B his sister 
and receives B’s sister in return. 

The European races are in almost hopeless confusion as to 
what constitutes proper grounds for the dissolution of the mar- 
riage tie. As might perhaps be expected there is still less unity of 
opinion in the savage world. At one extreme there are such 
peoples as the Veddahs, a forest tribe in Ceylon, the inhabitants 
of the Andaman Islands, off the east coast of India, and the 
Igorrotes of the Philippines, who do not permit divorce on any 
ground whatever. At the other are certain of the American 
Indian tribes, among whom the union can be dissolved practically 
at will by either party, without formalities. 

As to the number of those who may enter into wedlock with 
each other, the overwhelming majority of the race live under 
either one of tw^o regimes, monogamy and polygyny. Monogamy 
is found in every grade of culture from the lowest, but the per- 
mission of polygyny (which is a very different thing from the 
actual practice of it) is the rule throughout the uncivilized world. 

Polygamy, the marriage of one person with two or more mates, 
has two leading forms; polygyny, or the marriage of one man 
with two or more women, and polyandry, or the marriage of 
one woman with two or more men. Polyandry is an exceedingly 

"There are some other marriage prohibitions of secondary importance. 
For these see Westermarck, History of Human Marriage, 5th Edition, 
Ch. XIX; Lowie, Op. cii^ pp- 15-17. 



m 


ETHICS 


sporadic phenomenon, and is practiced not merely by very few 
groups, but by groups which, with the exception of the agricul- 
tural population of Thibet, are very small in number. With al- 
most no exceptions the husbands are brothers. With perhaps no 
exception whatever it is found in connection either with extreme 
poverty or with female infanticide. But whether in the latter 
case the infanticide is cause or effect seems to be impossible to 
determine with certainty.^* It is alleged by some writers that 
certain primitive customs reveal the traces of a former state 
of promiscuity, or of group marriage, which latter may or may 
not be thought to have followed upon the former. These views 
are still maintained by some authorities. I judge, however, that 
its opponents include in their number most of the rising genera- 
tion of ethnologists. Certainly this is true of the Americans. To 
me the evidence adduced for either group marriage or promis- 
cuity seems totally incapable of bearing the weight placed upon 
it. But I can not undertake to discuss the problem.-"’ 

With regard, finally, to extra-marital relations, again all 
conceivable possibilities are actually represented in some part of 
the primitive world. Among the Veddahs of Ceylon and some 
other peoples, along with strict monogamy and the demand for 
a lifelong union, there goes the prohibition of any extra-marital 
relations whatever. On the other hand there are peoples who 
stand at the other extreme, including a few where such relations 
to w’hich a married w^oman is a party apparently call forth no 
reprobation. Between these extremes a large number of transition 
forms can be found, representing not merely practice, but prac- 
tice which the community does not condemn, and occasionally 
even demands. 

Marriage Relations: — The Explanations of the Facts 

The problem presented by these facts is essentially that raised 
by tribal morality. In each case we find many practices con- 
demned by our own code which are looked upon as innocent by 
primitive people. We even find an obligation where w’e ourselves 

••See W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas, pp. 518, 520, 521. 

“Consult Lowie, Op. cit., pp. 49-62; Westermarck, History of Human 
Marriage, 5th Edition, Vol. Ill, Ch. XXXI. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 196 

should feel only abhorrence, as the practice of wife lending, 
which in some parts of the world is required by the laws of 
hospitality and under certain other special conditions. The 
question is, can a conscience w'hich permits, or in some instances 
demands these things be composed of the same materials, be built 
upon the same fundamental plan, and work according to the 
same laws as our own? 

In order to answer this question we must, as before, inquire 
into the causes which have produced these different results. We 
shall seek first for the causes which have brought into existence 
the code wdiich prevails among ourselves. 

In the first place, then, marriage is the product of economic 
forces. Men and w'omen must have a home of some sort, or its 
equivalent, if they are to live at all, to say nothing of living 
W’ell. The maintenance of the home requires the differentiated 
and at the same time cooperating activities of both man and 
woman. The family thus represents the most ancient form of the 
division of labor. What w^as true of the past is equally true 
today, notwithstanding the enormous gap that separates our com- 
plicated civilization from its simple progenitor. We are sometimes 
told that the changes of the past century have destroyed the 
economic functions of woman. But as long as the family live in 
a home instead of a hotel the wdfc will maintain her agelong 
position as an economic factor of the first importance. 

In the second place the institution of rnarriatr^* has aris(*n 1o 
provide for the nurture of children. It seeks to secure for every 
child the protection and care of both parents. Those who in 
any degree realize how hard a thing life may be even under the 
most favorable external conditions will regard as a crime only less 
serious than murder the thrusting of a child into the world with 
no assured provision for its economic support, its physical care, 
and its intellectual and moral education; and no provision for 
its membership in a family, the group where its needs for com- 
panionship, sympathy, and affection can most completely be 
met. W^hile many persons have no adequate sense of responsibility 
wdth regard to the fulfilment of these duties, the extreme case 
of an infant disowned or seriously neglected by its parents prac- 
tically never fails to outrage the moral feelings of the community. 



196 


ETHICS 


So necessary is the home now adjudged to be for the proper 
development of the child that as far as possible orphans and 
foundlings are kept out of the ''asylums^' into which they were 
herded two generations ago and are placed in families. 

Marriage among oiu-selves, furthermore, exists as an instru- 
mentality for assuring the father of the paternity of his children. 
The husband who must take upon himself his share of the re- 
sponsibilities involved in the care of the children born to his 
wife wants the certainty that these children are his own. He 
wants to feel the kind of union with them which, he believes, 
could only arise when he knows they are of the same blood with 
himself. Only then, he thinks, can his affections flow freely, and 
his pride in their excellences and achievements have free rein. 
It may indeed be true that a man can feel great love for a 
foster-child, in some cases not less than for his own offspring. 
But this, perhaps, represents the exception rather than the rule; 
and most men would be inclined in advance of experience to 
doubt whether it would hold of themselves. Even if they were 
convinced it would, such a relationship would not appeal to them 
as equally satisfying with that between a father and the son who 
was “bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.^^ 

Finally the characteristic features of the code of the most 
highly civilized contemporary peoples have in part their source 
in the conviction that love is the most precious, or at the lowest 
count, one of the most precious possessions in life; and that 
marriage offers at once the opportunity and the occasion for the 
most satisfying form of companionship and love, the permanent 
union of a man and a woman. 

Permanent and strong love of husband and wife for each other 
and for their children is recognized as not merely desirable 
per 66 , but also as a means to an end. The end is, in part, the 
permanence of the marriage union, whose dissolution, however 
necessary it may sometimes be, is always preceded, almost in- 
variably attended, and commonly followed by much distress. 
Just as important is the fact that love is the most powerful 
creator of the spirit, which serves without measiuring with careful 
eye precisely what it is to receive by way of return; for it is 
only where this spirit lives that there can be any adequate 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 197 

security for the discharge of even the most elementary and 
external duties involved in the family relationship. 

If we are to understand our modem ideals of marriage we 
must add one more feature, the growing recognition of the fact 
that the fundamental interests of a woman are just as precious 
as those of a man, and are equally entitled to consideration, I 
should perhaps add that this conviction is not identical with 
the belief that women should have a larger measure of legal 
power, for example over the family property and the custody 
and care of the children ; still less that they have an inalienable 
right to exercise this or that political function. Many of those 
who opposed the undoubtedly salutary reforms which have 
changed entirely the legal status of woman, particularly the wife 
and mother, during the past hundred years, w^ere actuated by the 
conviction that the unity of the family w^as being endangered. 
They would have been far from denying, however, the equal 
right of women with men to access to the best things of life. 

The form which the institution of marriage has actually taken 
among us is undoubtedly due to the cooperation and interaction 
of a number of forces. Of these the most important has been the 
aim to attain more and more completely the ends which have 
just been set forth. It is on the ground of their incompatibility 
with these values that extra-marital relations are condemned, 
that the consent and indeed the initiative of the persons im- 
mediately concerned are coming to be widely regarded as essen- 
tial, and that divorce is allowed, for the most part, only under 
conditions so exceptional that the knowledge of its possibility 
is not likely to destroy the presumption of the permanency of 
the union for those who enter it. It is for the same reasons that 
polygamy has everywhere given way to monogamy with the 
advance of civilization. It is recognized that full and complete 
love, a love based not merely upon mutual confidence and 
respect, but also upon companionship in the deepest sense of the 
term, can exist only where there is a one to one relationship, 
where the woman has the undivided devotion of the man, just 
as the man expects to have the undivided devotion of the woman. 

If we turn from civilized to primitive society and ask what 
is here demanded of marriage we shall discover, I believe, the 



198 


ETHICS 


reasons for the differences in standards which are so often found 
at the two levels. The central fact is the absence of affection 
as a motive to marriage and the predominance of the economic 
factor. 

'The primary motive, so far as the individual mates are concerned, 
is precisely the founding of a self-sufficient economic aggregate. A 
Kai . . . marries because he needs a woman to make pots and to 
cook his meals, to manufacture nets and weed his plantations, in return 
for which he provides the household with game and fish and builds the 
dwelling.”- 

"From the very nature of the marriage institution among the Iroquois, 
it follows that the passion of love was entirely unknown among them. 
Affection after marriage would naturally spring up between the parties 
from association, from habit, and from mutual dependence; but of 
that marvelous passion which originates in a higher development of 
the powers of the human heart, and is founded upon a cultivation of 
the affections between the sexes, they were entirely ignorant. In their 
temi)eraments, they were below this passion in its simplest forms. 
Attachments between individuals or the cultivation of each other’s 
affections before marriage, was entirely unknown.” 

These two pictures, dealing with peoples so remote from each 
other as the inhabitants of the Island of New Guinea and of the 
State of New York arc fairly representative. Marriage in primi- 
tive society is primarily a businc.ss partnership, to whose function 
is added the care of the children who are its issue. In our own 
country business partners often contract a strong friendship for 
each other; furthermore some men have undoiibtcilly become 
partners because they were first friends. Similarly there is un- 
questionably found a certain amount of marital affection among 
the simpler races. Elopements, also, arc not unknown. The fact 
remains that love in the higher sense of the term does not deter- 
mine the nature of the institution, or the attitude towards it, of 
public opinion as a whole. I must add that when primitive man 
marries he is acquiring not so much a partner as a servant, or 
perhaps better, a housekeeper. The story of the Fiji chief wffio, 
in a burst of friendship, said to an English official: shall 

have much pleasure in giving you one of my many wives,” no 
doubt represents a somewhat extreme point of view. Nevertheless 

wic, Op. cit., p. 65. 

' Lewis Morgan, Op. cit. (Edition of 1904), Vol. I, p. 313. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIIMITIVE PEOPLE 199 

it sheds a real light upon the attitude of the majority of savage 
men towards marriage.**' 

This external conception of marriage accounts in great part 
for the characteristic features of the primitive code of sexual 
morality. It explains the custom of obtaining a wife by purchas- 
ing her. Her consent, furthermore, since she is regarded as an 
inferior being, is as unnecessary as that of a horse to a change of 
ownership. This conception of marriage explains, in great part, 
also, the attitude towards divorce. A man ought to be able to 
dismiss his servants at wall, although of course complications 
produced by parenthood enter, and destroy any complete paral- 
lelism. At all events free divorce is not likely to produce serious 
economic hardships. The man can find other servants. The woman 
is sure of a welcome in her father’s hut, if for no other reason 
because she will give in labor as much as she gets in food. And 
for the same reason she will have little difficulty in finding a new 
^^job,** that is to say, a second husband. Similarly with regard to 
polygamy. Why should not a man have two servants rather than 
one, if he can afford it? As for the woman, slie will often welcome 
an additional wife w^ho will share the work with her. Besides she 
can then pose as the wife of a wealthy man and thus enjoy a 
certain standing among the other women to which she might 
otherwise not attain. 

The love of parents for children appears to be as deep and 
as absorbing among primitive peoples as among ourselves. In 
many races, however, the fact of identity of blood seems to have 
little or nothing to do with the case. Of some it is distinctly 
stated that they have no interest in the question of paternity 
whatever. They become attached to those children who are de- 
pendent upon them from infancy, or wlio arc offspring of the 
woman or women who belong to them. And this is the sole or 
dominant condition of the rise of affection for the child. Williams 
tells of a Fiji w’ho actually arranged in advance with his wife 
to murder their own child at birth in order that a recently 
adopted infant might be nursed by her and might otherwise 
benefit by her care.*® This, like the other Fijian story, doubtless 

•A. B. Brewster, The Hill Tribes of Fiji, P- IS* 

* Williams and Calvert, Fiji and the Fijians, 1859, p. 142. 



200 


ETHICS 


represents the extreme rather than the type. None the less it is 
significant. This indifference to paternity supplies, in part, the 
key to the indifference with which extra-marital relations are 
viewed in many parts of the savage world. On the other hand 
if a woman bears a child before marriage there is always someone 
glad to take care of it, and the care will be on the average just 
as good as if it were born of married parents. If after a marriage 
a child is born whose father is someone else than the husband, 
the latter does not object, provided the relationship was entered 
into with his consent, as in wife-lending. If not, this would be a 
very different matter because it would be a violation of his 
property rights. 

It is this absence of affection as a factor in the selection of 
mates that helps to account for the wide scope and sometimes the 
eccentric boundary lines of the field of prohibited degrees. Where 
there is no thought of affection, especially where betrothal takes 
place in infancy or childhood, so that even choice on the basis 
of efficiency can not enter, one woman will do about as well as 
another. To us, some of these limitations would be intolerable, 
and sooner or later they would be destroyed. But the savage does 
not find them particularly oppressive. With his conceptions as to 
what marriage has to offer he is in much the position of the 
chorus girls in one of the musical comedies: 

‘I’ve got to marry some one 
So it might as well be you.” 

With these facts before us we return to our original question: 
Can men with these standards of sexual morality have a moral 
consciousness like our own? We find that some of the differences 
between the codes are due to general conditions of life, in virtue 
of which certain forms of laxness carry with them in the primitive 
world consequences far less serious than would follow in a more 
highly developed society. Some (the rules against intermarriage 
within the clan) are the result of the existence of a different 
social structure from ours. Still others are due to differences in 
the strength of the desire for the consciousness of paternity. But 
the most important are explainable by the relative or complete 
absence of any thought of mutual affection and a sense of con- 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 201 

geniality and comradeship between husband and wife as a value- 
giving factor in the marriage relation. Any practice which we 
see endangering this value, or any practice which we even dimly 
feel may endanger it, we condemn. In the determination of our 
attitudes mere attachment to the customary because it is familiar 
doubtless plays a certain role. But where customs are recognized 
as at once valueless and burdensome they have a way of dis- 
appearing.*® Hence the blind clinging to that which is, merely 
because it is, can not be the fundamental factor. 

Morality deals with values or goods. All human beings unite 
in condemning such forms of conduct as destroy, or threaten to 
destroy, that which they value. A people, any considerable pro- 
portion of whom had any real appreciation of the beautiful in 
nature, would never tolerate the placing of bill-boards where 
they disfigure the countryside, as they do today. But where a 
man can see no difference between a bill-board and Mt. Ranier 
except in the matter of size, wdiat reason has he for chafing? 
Thus it is with primitive man in the matter of sex relations. 
He looks with indifference upon much which we condemn, not 
because the principles on which he distributes approbation and 
condemnation are fundamentally different from our own, but 
because he is blind to certain values which those who have ex- 
perienced them will always regard as among the most precious 
possessions of mankind. 


IV 

The Unity op the Moral Consciousness of the Race 
If the facts presented in this Chapter are typical, as I believe 
they are, they permit, as far as I can see, only one conclusion. 
The conscience of primitive man has the same fundamental 
nature and works according to the same laws as our own. His 
moral judgments, like ours, have their ultimate source in the 
impersonal desire for good, and, under specific conditions, the 
impersonal desire for evil; and, as with us, they vary only in 

•This is true even of primitive society, as we are be^nning to discover 
now that works on ethnology are being published which are the outcome 
of detailed and systematic study by trained experts who are mtimately 
acquainted at first hand with the people of whom they write. 



202 


ETHICS 


the extent to which they succeed in embodying the spirit denoted 
by these terms. All the original moral judgments of every human 
being express approbation or disapprobation of the wull to pro- 
duce good or evil effects. All imitative judgments must at least 
be such as not to conflict violently with the demands of the ideals 
expressed in original judgments; and their origin is traceable for 
the most part, or entirely to these judgments themselves. Herein 
consists the moral unity of the race. 

But the moral consciousness of mankind is a unity in a higher 
and more important sense. This unity reveals itself in the fact 
that over and above whatever variations there may be in actual 
judgments, there exists a single standard valid for every human 
being. Even if our enumeration of the moral standards of civilized 
or uncivilized man should turn out to be incomplete, even if entire 
classes of judgments have been omitted from our list, our conclu- 
sion with regard to the existence of universal validity and the 
nature of the universally valid standard would remain quite un- 
affected. For whatever accretions may have grown up about 
it in the history of the race, the essence of morality consists in 
the assertion of the authority of the whole over the part, and of 
the valuable over both the valueless and the positively bad. 
Validity in morals consists in nothing but the consistent, or per- 
sistent holding fast to this point of view. Whatever practices, 
whether accompanied by some sort of approbation on the part 
of the agent or not, may make their appearance, must therefore 
be extruded if they are in conflict with it. The w’omen of a 
certain Australian tribe tie a string around one finger so tightly 
that it stops the circulation of the blood and accordingly the 
outer part mortifies and ultimately falls off.'^* The women them- 
selves, we are told, do not know why they do this. Arguing from 
the analogies supplied by all the really concrete and thorough- 
going studies of primitive races, we might surmise that they 
vaguely expect this performance in some way either to bring 
them good luck or to avert bad. Let us assume, however, for the 
sake of argument that this guess is false. Let us also assume, 
for the sake of argument (what apparently is not the case), that 
the performance is felt to be obligatory in the moral sense. On 

“Howitt, Native Tribes of Southeast Australia, p. 746. 



THE MORAL IDEAS OF PRIMITIVE PEOPLE 203 


these suppositions we should here have an absolutely anomalous 
judgment, as far as anything presented in this book is concerned. 
It would still remain a fact, however, that the consistent carrying 
through of the principle, operative as one force among others 
in the moral consciousness of the Australian native as truly as 
in our own, that the greater good is to be chosen in preference 
to the less, carries with it the condemnation of all useless suffer- 
ing and harmful mutilation. Accordingly, whatever may be the 
psychology of this practice, and of the judgment behind it, if 
there is any, its place is none the less outside the boundaries of 
valid morality. The evidence for the existence of a single valid 
code, and thus for the fundamental moral unity of the race, is 
therefore independent of the success of our attempt to draw 
up a complete list of the fundamental modes of applying the 
terms right and wrong to human actions. 



Chapter XII 


THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY UPON MORAL 
STANDARDS 

A COMPLETE account of the forces that make our judgments of 
right what they are, must include some estimate of the role of 
authority in the formation of such judgments. By authority I 
mean the opinions of those whom we regard as wiser than we. 
As everyone knows, it plays a very important part in determin- 
ing our beliefs concerning what are commonly called “matters of 
fact.” In most men’s picture of the solar system, the earth goes 
round the sun simply on the word of the astronomers. Our views 
as to what is harmful to health are apt to be the joint product 
of our own experience and our respect for the medical profes- 
sion or for some individual doctor. For almost every citizen of 
the United States the conviction that a republic is a better form 
of government than a monarchy is based upon the fact that 
everyone he is acquainted with or knows about thinks so. This 
leaning upon the shoulders of others is, within limits, for the 
great majority of the population, inevitable and desirable. 
Equally inevitable and desirable is the transference of the same 
attitude to the field of morals. As young children our parents 
and perhaps teachers serve as our leading experts. Then the 
mantle may pass to some boy three or four years older than we. 
Later it may be divided among several groups or classes, certain 
revered individuals, and the whole society of which we form a 
part; the last, because it is inconceivable to us that everyone, or 
everyone we know, should be mistaken. 

This statement, as it stands, leaves ample room for the working 
of inner forces in the moral consciousness, for the influence of 
“nature”, or native endowment, in determining gro\^i;h, as well 
as “nurture”, or environment. But as we learned in Chapter II, 
page 22, there exists a widely accepted view according to which 
the moral standards of the ordinary man are nothing more than 

204 



THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 


206 


the mere product of social pressure. All the men and women about 
us, apart from a few exceptionally educated or gifted persons, 
get all their ideas of what is right and wrong from the community 
about them. The popular beliefs that it is wrong to murder and 
innocent to write with a pen in preference to a lead pencil are 
due to no other circumstance than the chance that we have been 
taught that one was wrong and have been spared the same opera- 
tion with respect to the other. It would have been just as easy, 
however, to reverse the process and make everyone look upon 
writing with a pen as the sum of all villainies and murder as an 
innocent pastime: and this without any changes in conceptions 
of cause and effect, (See above Chapter IX, pages 148 ff.) 

I have set forth this view in its extreme form, but it is no 
creation of my imagination. It is being diligently spread before 
the public by numerous sociologists, ethnologists, moralists, and 
many other members of the same genus. From this point opinions 
taper off according as less and less importance is attributed to 
authority. But undoubtedly a very large number of contemporary 
moralists stand at or close to the other end of the line. 

If there is any truth in the analyses of Chapters II, III, and 
VII, this doctrine of the omnipotence of authority in morals rep- 
resents, at the least, a gross exaggeration. But I am not willing 
to rest the case there. I shall attempt in this Chapter to present 
some direct evidence against it. Whatever this may be worth it 
will show, I believe, that the case for the extreme conceptions of 
the power of authority is not so simple as is frequently imagined. 


The Teachings of Christ as an Authority in Morals 
We may reasonably assume that for a genuine believer in the 
supernatural origin of Christianity the highest authority on 
morals is likely to be the teachings of Christ. We shall therefore 
get much light on the strength of authority as a psychological 
force if we watch the conflict between the precepts of the New 
Testament and the demands of the ordinary man’s conscience 
at some point where the latter is a living force and not a mere 
dead formula. The best field for such an inquiry is offered by 



206 


ETHICS 


the phenomena of revenge. Here there exist on the one side the 
express prohibitions of the Sermon on the Mount, on the other 
side the impulses behind the law of retaliation. Acceptance of this 
law, in some form or other, is, as we know, only a little short 
of universal.* Some of its demands can be treated by the sophis- 
ticating conscience, anxious to escape the shackles of authority, 
as outside the range of the injunctions of the Gospels. Such is 
retributive punishment on the part of the state. There are other 
forms, however, which no one will pretend to be beyond the juris- 
diction of the commandment: “Love your enemies.*’ Of this the 
most indisputable instance is private revenge for a wrong com- 
mitted against self. It will therefore be worth while to examine 
the attitude of the Christian layman’s conscience towards this 
class of actions. 

The report which follows is derived from a study of the 
dysdemonic judgment made by my colleague, Professor Otto, 
and me, certain results of which were published in the Inter- 
national Journal of Ethics for April and July, 1910. The instru- 
mentality employed was the casuistry question. The subjects 
consisted of 100 students in the first year of the Short Course in 
Agriculture in the University of Wisconsin. They were selected 
from a larger body of volunteers partly by the toss of a coin, 
partly by favoring those who reported the least amount of 
school attendance. 

Th.e method by which the data wxre obtained was as follows. 
We appeared before the students assembled in class, and re- 
quested their assistance in our undertaking. Mimeographed ques- 
tions were then distributed, to which tliose who cared to help 
us returned answers in written form. The written w’ork, how- 
ever, was a mere device adopted in order to discover who w’ere 
willing to cooperate with us, and in order to start their minds 
w'orking in preparation for the real investigation that was to 
follow. Indeed, half the questions on the paper had nothing to 
do wdth the subject matter of the study and were inserted as a 
blind. The actual data were obtained in every case from an 
interview, sometimes from two interviews, averaging about an 
hour in length. It is the answers obtained in this way that form 

'See Chapter II. page 33. 



207 


THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 

the subject matter of our report. The interview made it possible 
to protect investigator and student alike from mutual mis- 
understandings. What is equally important, it made possible 
the formulation of a number of secondary questions, variations 
on the original theme, which w^ere of the greatest value in deter- 
mining the exact attitude of the respondent towards a series of 
different though closely related situations. 

In these interviews three fundamental problems, with their 
subsidiaries, were put to the subjects, the major ones having 
appeared on the original paper. Of these our present inquiry is 
concerned wuth only one. It reads as follows: 

A certain boy came to New York from the country without money 
and without friends. He was soon befriended by a prosperous manu- 
facturer w’ho took him into his employment and into his home, and 
in the end, made him his partner. The new partner took advantage 
of his position to cheat his benefactor out of all his money, depriv^ 
him of his share in the business, and turned him out of both factory 
and home penniless. The manner in which this was done can be guessed 
from the fact that years afterwards he openly boasted of it to a certain 
person in such a way as to show that he considered it not only a clever 
trick but also a good joke. Suppose the benefactor, having no prospect 
before him of obtaining restitution by means of the courts, had found 
himself able to secure the aid of powerful influences which by with- 
drawing loans at a critical time could have ruined the business of the 
younger man, would he have been morally justified in attempting to 
do so? This story of ingratitude, it may be added, is true in every 
detail. 

When this question is examined in the concrete, a number of 
considerations tend to enter wdiich obscure the real issue. Thus 
some were led to an affirmative answer by the idea that the 
ruining of his business might bring about the young man’s 
reformation; others thought it might have a good effect upon 
the standards of the business men of the city. Again, certain 
negative answers turned on the supposition that if the young 
man w^as forced into bankruptcy, innocent parties might have 
to suffer; still others, on the conviction that if the benefactor 
refrained from himself ruining his former partner, the latter 
would suffer none the less in this world, or at all events he 
would get no happiness from his ill-gotten wealth. These and 
other similar considerations w^ere met by appropriate additions 



206 


ETHICS 


to the original relation, so that the final answer in every case 
squarely met the point at issue. This was: Is private vengeance 
justified under circumstances such as those here described? 

To those who repudiated retaliation a second question was 
presented, whenever time permitted. Unfortunately this hap- 
pened in only a small minority of cases. As the present study, 
however, does not aim at a quantitative estimate, but rather at 
the determination of the existence of a certain attitude, this 
omission (as will appear in the course of the exposition) is not 
so serious as might be expected. The second question reads as 
follows: 

The scene is laid in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. A physician, 
widely beloved and trusted, who had lived his whole life in that region, 
had been called in to attend some men who had been seriously wounded 
in a blood feud. Soon after he was met on a lonely road by one of the 
feudists. The latter informed the physician that, in revenge for the 
services rendered to his enemies, he was about to kill him. The doctor 
pleaded for his life, not for his own sake, for he was over sixty, and, 
in any event, had not many more years to live, but for his wife and fam- 
ily. His wife was much yo\inger than he, and his children — all daughters 
— were not yet grown. In reply the murderer only laughed at him, and, 
after rendering escape impossible with a single shot, proceeded in 
leisurely fashion to shoot him to pieces, making the less vital parts of 
the body his first target in order to lengthen his victim’s agony as much 
as possible, jeering at him the while between the shots. Provided that 
conviction by a court of law was impossible, would one of his relatives 
be justified in avenging this death? It being distinctly understood that 
the return of like for like would do nothing to prevent such deeds from 
recurring, and, indeed, was the rather liable to call forth new ones by 
way of reprisal. 

Both questions are required to bring out all the champions of 
revenge because a few persons w^ho object to retaliation in the 
second instance because it involves death, will accept it in the 
first. On the other hand others vriW reject it in the first because 
they do not regard the crime as bad enough to justify any kind 
of vengeance; whereas their attitude in the second may be that 
of a certain thoroughgoing and staunch defender of forgiveness, 
who on hearing, at the end of the interview, the story of the 
Kentucky murder instantly exclaimed with great intensity of 
feeling: “The electricity chair would be too easy for him. I would 
give him the same as he done and a little worse.” 



THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 209 

When the casuistry questions had been put and answered the 
great majority of the students were asked if they believed the 
teachings of Christ, as recorded in the Gospels, represented an 
infallible revelation given to man by God. In order that none 
might be moved to answer in the affirmative out of deference to 
our supposed opinions we phrased our question in such a way as 
to create the presumption that we ourselves took the skeptical 
position ; and we classified all those who did not express absolute 
certainty as having answered in the negative. On this basis 
fifty-six of these young men were counted as accepting un- 
equivocally the divine authority of the words of Christ, and 
twenty-nine were placed by us in the opposite category. The 
attitude of the remaining fifteen we did not have time to dis- 
cover. Our problem was to determine how far the members of 
the first group would be influenced in their judgments by Christ’s 
condemnation of the law of retaliation. 

Of the fifty-six believers, twenty-five repudiated revenge in 
their written answers, eleven with and fourteen without specific 
reference to the teachings of the New Testament. In the inter- 
views the remaining thirty-one were placed face to face with 
the prohibitions of Matthew V, which they of course recognized 
immediately upon hearing. Thereupon fifteen of them changed 
their position. The remaining sixteen, however, stood unmoved. 
In twelve cases this attitude was a response to the story of the 
ruined benefactor, in four to the incident of the Kentucky feud. 
We found time to tell the latter story to only eight or ten of 
our subjects. If all could have heard it the number of those who 
called for vengeance on the WTong-doer would unquestionably 
have been greatly increased. As it is, however, the facts are 
sufficiently striking. Of thirty-one persons who profess to believe 
that the teachings of Christ are the infallible words of an omnis- 
cient God, fifty per cent refuse to change their judgments in def- 
erence to the voice of divine authority. But even this is not quite 
all. Of those who did change their answers, three hesitated a 
long time before coming to a decision, and in the end condemned 
revenge with a minimum of conviction. A further fact must be 
taken into account in gauging the strength of authority. The 
situation was a far more serious one for the non-believers than 



210 


ETHICS 


for the believers. The majority of the former were either very 
doubtful about the existence of rewards and punishments after 
death, or actually disbelieved it. When they repudiated retalia- 
tion therefore they bade farewell to it forever. On the other 
hand, a considerable number of those who changed their opinion 
in the face of the scriptural prohibition demonstrably consoled 
themselves with the thought of the punishment reserved for 
miscreants of this kind in a life beyond the grave. “God will give 
it to him anyway,” said one respondent concerning the man who 
ruined his benefactor, “so I say forgive him and leave him to 
his fate.” 

It may be alleged that those who refused to recant were 
persons whose belief in the Bible was purely nominal or who 
lived habitually in an atmosphere which made the Bible and 
its teachings mere words and nothing more. This was demon- 
strably untrue of at least half this number, and for aught we 
know may have been true of the others also. Over half of our 
Christian champions of the law of retaliation were interviewed 
twice with an interval of three to five weeks between the inter- 
views. Several of them informed us that in this period they had 
thought of little else in so far as their daily work had given them 
an opportunity for reflection at all. One young man in particular 
I sliall never forget. He sat before me with his head partially 
bowed, beads of perspiration standing on his forehead. In as 
many ways as my ingenuity could devise, I placed before him 
the incompatibility of revenge and the Sermon on the Mount. 
Yes, the Bible is the word of God and true from cover to cover; 
“but this man he had ought to be punished. I ain^t got nothing 
to say against the Bible, but that is the way I feel.” Such was 
his constantly reiterated reply. How his position could be recon- 
ciled with the teachings of the New Testament did not interest 
him in the slightest degree. He apparently thought that was 
my job. But he knew absolutely what was right in the premises 
for he had inside information. 

Of the thirty-one believers who began by approving revenge, 
sixteen, as we have seen, stuck to their belief in the face of the 
demands of an authority regarded by them as infallible. But 
what of the twenty-five who condemned retaliation from the 



THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 211 

start? Was their position due solely or primarily to an unques- 
tioning submission of individual judgment to the voice of revela- 
tion? This can not be admitted for a moment. For of the twenty- 
nine non-believers, nine, or thirty-one per cent, disapproved of 
revenge also. If the same proportion had held among the fifty-six 
believers, we should have had seventeen who would have con- 
demned revenge any way, quite apart from the pressure of 
authority. These persons w^ould have been members of the group 
of twenty-five who repudiated retaliation from the start. Accord- 
ingly seventeen members of the group would be there wdiatcvcr 
their religious beliefs, leaving only eight whose answers could be 
attributed primarily to the authority of the Bible. It is indeed 
true that our numbers are too small to serve as the basis of exact 
calculation. Nevertheless they justify the conclusion that there 
arc other forces at w^ork among those who repudiate revenge 
from the start, besides the voice of divine revelation. 

It must not be supposed that I attach any particular value to 
the precise percentages at any point in this study. Not merely 
are the numbers with wdiich it deals somewhat too small to be 
representative; what is far more significant is the fact that no 
single investigation, or indeed no scries of invcsligalion.s, could 
measure the power of authority in morals with complete ade- 
quacy. Authority is simply one agency among other.^; and its 
efficacy in producing conviction at any given moment will depend 
on the one hand upon the force with which it appeals to the mind 
as a living reality, and on the other hand uiion the vigor of the 
opposing ideal. At points where men have no strong convictions 
of their own, or where they do not see clearly just what their 
owm standards require, as perhaps in the matter of divorce, or 
w’here incompatible ideals such as forgiveness and retaliation 
appeal w'ith approximately equal strength to different sides of 
their nature, there the Bible may decide the issue. But wffiere a 
man^s own ideals are clear or deeply rooted in his character, its 
claim to the right to determine the judgment will often be 
repudiated, either consciously or unconsciously. 



212 


ETHICS 


The Influence op Authobity upon Childben’s Moral Ideals 

Every conclusion drawn from the preceding examination might 
be admitted and the claim still urged that, after all, the great 
bulk or even the whole body of our moral judgments has its 
source in authority of some sort. The child, it may be said, gets 
his standards from the community in which he grows up. As the 
twig is bent the tree’s inclined. It may indeed be true that when 
he reaches man’s estate he is not greatly influenced by a revela- 
tion from another world. But the time for that is past. And 
the reason is that he has already been so completely shaped by 
one set of authorities that he is no longer capable of being 
moulded by another, however powerful it may be in itself. 

In 1894 Professor Dewey published an article which ought 
to have served as the foundation for all later discussion of this 
subject. It appeared in Volume 45 of the Popular Science 
Monthly, and was called “The Chaos in Moral Training.” He 
asked each of the hundred students in his introductory ethics 
class, “to state some typical early moral experience of his own, 
relating, say, to obedience, honesty, and truthfulness, and the 
impression left by the outcome upon his own mind, especially 
his impression as to the reason for the virtue in question.” On the 
theory that the mind is a tabula rasa, commands issued by par- 
ents to a young child — unless one parent contradicts another, or 
some other authority intervenes — should be regarded as ipso 
facto right, and the infliction of punishment for disobedience as 
justified. In reality Professor Dewey’s returns tell a very differ- 
ent story. 

“A sense of injustice seems to have been the first distinctly moral feel- 
ing aroused in many. This, not on account of the wrong that the child 
did others, but of wrong suffered in being punished for something which 
seemed perfectly innocent to the child. One of the distinctly painful im- 
pressions left on my own mind by the papers is the comparative fre- 
quency with which parents assumed that an act is consciously wrong 
and punish it as such, when in the child’s mind it is simply psycho- 
logical — based, I mean, upon ideas and emotions which under the cir- 
cumstances are natural.” 

Here “natural” can only mean, looked upon by the child with- 



THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 213 

out disapprobation; at least the facts themselves require this 
interpretation. 

This statement does not refer to the sense of injustice which 
certain students report when they were punished for something 
they did not do, or which they did not know was contrary to 
the parental will, or w^here they w'ere punished for something 
they could not help, such as the results of an accident. Accounts 
of these incidents of course appear, but they are not the striking 
feature of this collection of confessions. The significant fact is 
that the word of command issuing from an authority may or 
may not be regarded as representing the demands of the moral 
law, and very frequently is not. 

A number of years ago I obtained from my students about 125 
similar papers which are still in my possession. They took the 
form of answers to the following question: ^‘Givc an account 
of some early punishment wdiich you remember with fair defi- 
niteness and completeness, and state its effects upon you, and 
your attitude or feeling at the time towards the person who 
punished you.*’ Here again a considerable majority of the replies 
reveal a repudiation of the authority of the parent on the part 
of the child at the time of the command, and a vivid resentment 
at the use of punishment for refusal to obey, together with a 
rankling sense of injustice after the punishment had been in- 
flicted. They show the youthful member of the genus homo 
W’eighing his parents* deeds in the balance and finding them 
w^anting, with much the same freedom that these parents allow 
themselves in reference to his shortcomings. Recognition of the 
justice of the command and of the punishment following dis- 
obedience of course also occurs. Such replies might be ambiguous, 
for they might not tell us whether the command was accepted by 
the child because it w-as commanded, or because, apart from all 
command, it appealed to him as just. In fact, however, many 
of the papers are unexpectedly enlightening at this point also, 
and yield information which ic quite out of touch with the pre- 
vailing views on this subject. 

These contentions I shall try to justify, by presenting a few 
specimen answers taken from my collection. 



214 


ETHICS 


1. A boy who lived on the shores of a lake was forbidden to 
go near the water. He disobeyed, was caught and thrashed. 

''After the pain had subsided, I began to think, and to say the least, 
my attitude was a revengeful one. *Why shouldn’t I go to the lake if 
I want to?' I argued. 'What if I do fall in? I can swim, and I’m not 
hurting anyone — ^least of all myself.' ” 

2. A girl reports a similar situation and an identical reaction. 

"During my childhood I was very fond of sitting by the water and 
would watch the waves by the hour. My father had placed a new boat 
on the river and had anchored it near my favorite spot. It was a 
temptation. My father had forbidden me to meddle with the boat, but 
I could not resist. I entered the boat and enjoyed the new sensation 
so much that I climbed into it every day until I was discovered. This 
resulted in a whipping, and in being sent to bed without supper. 1 
spent the W'hole night in weeping, since I thought myself cruelly 
wronged, saying to myself '7 did not hurt the old boat ' " (italics as in 
the original). 

3. A young man writes: 

"My early punishments were often misplaced, which detracted con- 
siderably from their good effects. I often did abominable things for 
which 1 was not j)unished at all, and was spanked for offenses which 
seemed to me trivial. The earliest spanking of which I have any rec(>]- 
lection took place when I w’as five years old. When out playing one dny 
with a lot of little boys who were in the habit of using naughty words, 
I followed their example and told my little brother to go to the devil. 
The spanking which I received caused in me only feelings of the deep- 
est resentment and rebellion. But it was a long time before I used the 
expression again." 

4. In the following paper a woman student tells how she ap- 
plied the principle of the greater good in her childhood. 

"As children my brothers and I had to perform certain definite duties. 
They carried wood and water and I had to wash the dishes and pare 
potatoes in the morning before I went to school. When I was ten years 
old I learned to ride horseback and I was allowed to go out riding at 
any time that it did not interfere with my work. Four or five other girls 
in the village rode horseback and they went out just the time I had to 
wash dishes after tea. ... I used to think that since dish washing was 
such a task for me and so slight a thing for my mother to do, I ought 
to be relieved.” 

In these instances we find children weighing values, in the im- 
perfect way, to be sure, in which a child’s mind might be ex- 



THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 215 

pected to work, but nevertheless weighing values; and reacting 
vigorously against the infliction of negative values when the 
situation, in their opinion, did not justify it; all this in defiance 
of the moral judgments of their parents. In the following paper, 
however, we find an illustration of the traditional theory — an 
act is wrong because forbidden and for no other reason. The 
MTiter is a man. 

5. 'The earliest punishment that I can remember with any distinct- 
ness at all is the time my mother washed my tongue with red cast-stccl 
soap for persistently using the slang expression of 'by golly’ . . . For 
a very long time after I had the idea that the expression 'by Golly’ 
was extremely wicked. Very much stronger language never seemed to 
me to be quite as bad as 'by Golly.’ ” 

This fits perfectly the theory that a child has no moral nature 
of his own, but can be made to accept anything as wrong, how- 
ever preposterous it may be, if his parents t(‘ll him it is wrong. 
X^nfortunately for the theory, however, it is the only examjdc 
of this type in my collection of 125 reports. I shall return to it 
later. 

6. In the next paper we see again a parent’s judgment ac- 
cepted in the end — but on the basis of an insight into its reason- 
ableness on the part of the child. 

"The first severe punishment that I remember receiving occurred 
to me when I was about seven years of age. I had stolen away from 
heme one morning and in company with a number of other boys, went 
to a pond on the outskirts of the city in order to go swimming. I had 
l)ccn cautioned never to go to the pond in question and when I made 
known where I had been upon my arrival home that evening I received 
the severe punishment referred to above. I was w’hippcd severely and 
compelled to stay in the house for one week. This punishment seemed 
to me to be most unjust particularly because I thought that I had 
done no wrong. I thought of this some time and the more that I thought 
of it the more convinced I w^as that I had been treated unjustly. A 
month after our neighborhood w’as shocked by the sudden death of one 
of the younger members of the community who had been drowned 
in the same pond that I had been punished for going to. From that 
time on I could see plainly that the punishment that was inflicted upon 
me w’as perfectly just, to say the least, ar.d from that time I was 
more than glad to listen to my parents’ commands." 

7. The next, written by a w'oman, tells essentially the same 
story. She recognizes childish pertness as wrong, not as the result 



216 


ETHICS 


of an unreasoned ipse dixit backed by force, but in consequence 
of the discovery that it hurt her parents’ feelings. 

'1 cannot remember being whipped in my childhood except for 
talking back to my parents. It was a long time before I could see that 
I could not say anything to them that they could say to me. I could 
not see why it was wrong. When they did make me see that it hurt 
them, that it made them feel bad, then I was sorry. They never made 
me see it by whipping me but by talking and explaining things to me.” 

8. The following statement, contributed by a man, points the 
W’ay to parents who wish to arouse a solid and lasting con- 
fidence in the soundness of their moral judgment. 

*^My parents never punished me in anger, and it was a strict rule 
with my mother never to punish me without being sure that I under- 
stood just why she was doing so. How very strict this rule was may 
be shown by the fact that on one occasion when as she punished me 
in somewhat of a hurry and I asked her afterward what it was all 
about, she was almost heartbroken to think that I had had to suffer 
without knowing the reason. The result was that I always had a 
different view of punishment, I think, from that held by most children. 
Of course, I never welcomed it; but it never made me sullen or re- 
sentful tow^ards my parents.” 

These papers represent fairly, I believe, the leading types of 
answers to my questions. There are indeed a good many so in- 
definite in content that nothing whatever can be learned from 
them. There are also a few of the following kind: 

9. “When I was a child I used to love to help my father harness and 
hitch the horses. One day he sent me to bring a certain part of the 
harness. It was heavy and I dragged it in the dust, but when he asked 
me about it, I denied it. Of course he was able to prove to me that 
I had and to make me confess the truth. He told me w^hat a small 
offense I had done by dragging the harness, but he appeared very much 
displeased at my denial of it. He sent me into the house and would 
not allow me to be vnth him the rest of the morning. This punishment 
made a deep imj)re68ion upon my mind. I felt that it was a just thing 
to do and the best thing under the circmnstances.” 

This type of reply can of course give aid and comfort to either 
theory, as we are not supplied with enough information to know 
w'hy the lie was recognized as wrong. Most of the answers, how- 
ever, as far as essentials are concerned, are quite unambiguous. 
This is particularly true of the large number written by those 



THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 217 

that feel a bitter sense of injustice when punished for disobedi- 
ence to a parental command for which they could not discover 
a reason; that is, if anything in this book is true, a value gained, 
or harm avoided for someone. 

In all these papers, over a hundred in number, only one incident 
is narrated which suggests blind veneration of authority as such. 
It is that of the boy whose mother washed his tongue with 
''cast-steel” soap in order to break up the habit of saying "By 
Golly.” However, even our one apparent exception can be brought 
into line by making two assumptions, both intrinsically reason- 
able, though unfortunately not verified at the time. One is that 
the boy had been taught that profanity grieves God, just as 
pertness may grieve a parent.* The other is that "By Golly,” 
perhaps because it began with "G,” came in some confused way 
to be associated with profanity, first in the mind of the mother 
and then of the son. In the days when the saloon was one of our 
great national institutions an ardent member of the Women ^s 
Christian Temperance Union forbade her youthful son to drink 
soda water because it foamed at the top of the glass like beer. 
If the human mind is capable of a flight of this sort it ought to be 
able to suspect an identity between "God” and "Golly.” 

Here, then, are two reports made by over 200 students of the 
University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin. What 
do they show? Certainly this, that the mind of the child is no 
mere sheet of paper upon which age may write what characters 
it wills. As far as they go, they confirm the doctrine set forth 
by implication in the preceding Chapters of this book. Authority, 
it seems clear, has to deal from the start with a being possessing 
a definite, even though a very incomplete moral equipment; a 
being who at six years of age is quite capable of reproaching his 
father with the words, spoken or unspoken: "It isn’t fair for 
you to whip me for doing something, and then do it yourself”; 
a being, that is to say, who has within him the beginnings of an 
ideal of human conduct as a consequence of the v/orking of the 
inherent forces of his own mind and who will not hesitate to use 
it as a standard of criticism. This ideal is inchoate, superficial, 
erratic at times in its reactions, but a living organism none the 

* See above, Chapter 11, page 35. 



218 


ETHICS 


less. When it is appealed to in ways which he can at least faintly 
understand the child responds, not necessarily with obedience 
but with inner acquiescence. When the command fails to awaken 
an answering echo within the mind, and at the same time at- 
tempts to inhibit some strong impulse, he responds also, but this 
time with a feeling of burning injustice. Authority is thus not a 
God which creates something out of nothing. This seems certain. 
Moreover the facts at present at our disposal appear to warrant 
a farther conclusion. Authority is capable of producing moral 
conviction, whether in children or in adults, only in so far as its 
pronouncements are in substantial harmony with, or at least not 
greatly out of harmony with the moral nature of him whom it 
addresses. Its power is greatest in matters upon which the con- 
science of the individual speaks in vague or doubtful tones, 
whether because of indifference, ignorance, or want of insight. 
But it counts for little where conscience is alert, active, clear- 
sighted, and emotionally aroused. 

II 

The Alleged Immediacy op Lay Moral Judgments 

The belief that moral judgments are the product chiefly or 
entirely of authority is largely due, I think, to two opinions, one 
of them containing a large element of truth, as far as the facts 
are concerned, the other a matter for inquiry. Ignoring the first 
for the present, the second aflSrms the immediacy of the layman^s 
judgments of right and wrong. Immediacy means that the judg- 
ments in questions are not based upon the perception of the rela- 
tion of the action to any kind of value, that is to say, to good 
or evil. It excludes the eudemonic and dysdemonic judgments, 
which express our attitudes towards extrinsic values, and in 
effect, the esthetic and antipathetic judgments, which do the 
same thing for intrinsic values. With the element of value en- 
tirely eliminated, no alternative seems open to moralists of our 
day but to attribute the judgment to some external agency such 
as authority. 

I have tried to show in Chapters II and III that the average 



219 


THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 

judgments of the average layman are not explicable on this 
theory; that when we study his attitude towards a concrete 
breach of the rule of veracity, contracts, respect for property, 
etc., we see that it is determined by a more or less clear percep- 
tion of the relation of the action to the welfare of some person 
or group of persons thereby affected. I have made a detailed 
examination of these phenomena, the results of which were pub- 
lished in the monograph several times referred to, The Influence 
of Custom on the Moral Judgment, and have been led by it 
to the same conclusion. As I have already said ® I do not mean 
that the layman carries around in his head a formula represent- 
ing the utilitarian standard; any more than a man who looks 
for a cause when his fountain pen refuses to flow need ever to 
have said to himself : ^‘Every event must have a cause, and under 
the same circumstances the same cause must have the same 
effect.^’ What I do mean by the denial of immediacy is that 
(confining our attention for the sake of simplicity to the eude- 
monic judgment) when a man sees harm willed in a particular 
case he tends to call that action wrong; in so far as he sees good 
willed, he tends to call it right; when he sees no appreciable 
connection with good or harm he regards the action as morally 
indifferent. Judgments of the kind described in Chapter II, 
page 28, I should call fundamentally eudemonic rather than 
immediate. 

I do not categorically deny the possibility of immediacy, or 
even the existence of a certain amount of it, although I myself 
have never seen a moral judgment which I could be sure was 
entirely unrelated to any value whatever. I assert merely that 
in my opinion the evidence proves conclusively that immediacy 
can not account for all the layman’s judgments, or even the ma- 
jority of them; and that the only extensive examination with 
which I am acquainted (the one just referred to) seems to show 
it to be a distinctly subordinate if not a vanishingly small factor. 
Immediacy can not be used to support a theory of the dominance 
of authority until it has been shown to be itself a fact, and some- 
thing more than a sporadic fact at that. 

• Chapter 11, page 30, and Chapter IV, page 49. 



220 


ETHICS 


Attbtbalian Mabbiagb Babbiers as a Test Case of the 
Doctbinb of Immediacy 

In what I have just written I have been thinking of the moral 
standards of the civilized races. But I am ready to go farther. 
I feel prepared to make essentially the same assertion with re- 
gard to that part of the field where authority is supposed to 
celebrate its greatest triumphs. It is considered today the mark 
of an educated man— one who is emancipated from the trammels 
of outworn traditions — ^to know that primitive morality is purely 
blind, that it consists in unquestioning obedience to the authority 
of the community or certain of its members, as the chiefs, or 
old men, or the gods. In the last Chapter we studied the leading 
forms of primitive morality in so far as they differ from our 
own; and we saw, I trust, that the facts are quite otherwise. 
The main differences between primitive moral standards and 
ours, as I tried to show, are due to differences in the workings 
of benevolence, operating in part under circumstances unlike 
those in which we ourselves live. The same thing could be easily 
shown for most of the secondary differences. There are, however, 
certain approved practices which at first sight seem explicable 
only as blind obedience to a senseless rule. It may be desirable 
to make some study of these phenomena. If so it will be necessary 
to confine attention to a single case, in order that we may see 
it as an integral part of a way of living. Precisely the trouble 
with our conceptions of primitive morality has been that they 
have been nothing better than abstract notions, deriving their 
character from a failure to look at the facts in their relation to 
the concrete needs and circumstances of savage life as the savage 
himself sees them. I will accordingly select one of the most ex- 
treme instances with which I am acquainted, and in presenting 
it in its setting try to show whether it is or is not so senseless that 
obedience can only be called blind. 

Among the native races of Australia there exists a system of 
marriage restrictions which have been shown by Professor A. R, 
Radcliffe-Brown to be everywhere identical in principle, however 
they may differ in certain details from one locality to another. It 
will be advantageous to examine them as they appear in their 



221 


THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 

concreteness in some one territory. I will accordingly select cer- 
tain tribes of central Australia, of which the Arunta are the 
classical type specimen, and will describe, as far as space will 
permit, their laws concerning prohibited degrees. 

The entire membership of the tribe, male and female alike, is 
divided into eight classes, which it will be convenient to designate 
by the letters of the alphabet from A to H inclusive. It must be 
said by way of introduction that half of them, in our nomencla- 
ture, A, C, E, G, belong to one-half or “moiety” of the tribe and 
the rest to the other half; and this line of division appears to 
antedate the present class system, and in any event has consid- 
erable significance for their life today. Thus when the members 
of the tribe come together for one of their festivals, which may 
occupy several months, the males of A, C, E, and G, and their 
families camp together, while the members of the second moiety 
place their camp at some little distance from the other. 

The essential feature of the Arunta marriage laws is that 
a man of class A may marry only a woman of a single class, 
which I shall call B, and vice versa. If he runs away with a mar- 
ried woman of B, this is a matter that concerns solely the two 
male members of the triangle. If the husband is strong enough 
and interested enough to get her back with the assistance of a 
few of his fellow^s, he may. Otherwise, he will have to go with- 
out. But if a man should marry an unmarried woman of the 
wrong class the whole tribe would be up in arms against him 
at once. He and his bride would immediately take to the bush 
as a matter of course, since they would know that they were 
letting loose a tornado; and the tribe would send out one expedi- 
tion after another to find them, almost certainly keeping it up 
until in the end the guilty parties were caught and killed. It is 
true that since girls are betrothed in early infancy, or even — 
contingently~before birth, the woman in the case is almost cer- 
tainly the promised property of another man. However this is 
obviously not the essential feature of the crime. For a people that 
are quite unconcerned at the theft of a wife are not likely to be 
moved to unite in inflicting the death penalty merely by the 
breaking up of a betrothal. 

Thus nothing could seem more blind and irrational than the 



222 


ETHICS 


Arunta attitude towards this apparently venial offense. Neverthe- 
less when it is examined in its context it may look quite otherwise. 

The Arunta, as has been said, are divided into eight groups or 
classes, in some one of which every male or female member of 
the tribe has a place automatically assigned to him by birth. 
The principles on which this assignment operates will appear 
from the accompanying diagram. 



In it the sign = means “marries”; and the lines with arrowheads 
connect the classes of father and child, whether male or female. 
Thus a member of A (male or female) marries a member of B, 
and B only; and a member of B, in like manner, is restricted 
to the men or women of A. If such a person, whom we may call 
simply A, is a male, his children, both male and female, will 
belong to Class E. Male C marries female D. Their children 
are G. Similarly the children of E are A, and those of G are C. 
In moiety II, however, the arrangement is a little different. The 
children of a male B are H, and those of a male D are F, and 
vice versa. 

The first thing to notice about this classification is that every 
one of a man’s relations has a place in it, definitely and eternally 
fixed by the facts of consanguinity. If you are a male of Class A 
your father and his brothers and sisters are E; so also are 
your children. Your mother and her brothers and sisters are F. 
Your own brothers and sisters are A. Your cross-cousins, t.c., the 
children of your mother’s brother and your father’s sister — a 
very important relationship — are D. Your parallel cousins, i.c., 
the children of your father’s brother and your mother’s sister, 
are A. Your wife and your brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law 
are B. Ydur father-in-law, perhaps the most important of your 
relatives, is H; while your mother-in-law is of course G, Since 
your daughter is E your son-in-law must be F; and their chil- 
dren D. Your son’s children, on the other hand, are A. 



223 


THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 

In the second place you address every member of a given class 
of the same sex and the same generation, that is to say either 
your own generation, or your father's, or your son's, as the case 
may be, by the same name. Your father, for example, you call 
oknia. But your paternal uncle and every other male member of 
E of your father’s generation, you will also call oknia. Your son 
is allira. So are all male members of E in this generation. Every 
male E is thus either your oknia or your allira. Your wife's father 
is ikuntera; so is for you every male H in his generation. In the 
literature of the subject the former are commonly called actual 
father or father-in-law, and the latter, tribal or class fathers 
or fathers-in-law. In the interest of simplicity, however, I shall 
mark the distinction by the absence and presence, respectively, 
of quotation marks. 

How this system of naming and classifying ever arose I shall 
not here undertake to inquire. What we are interested in is the 
results it produces in the lives of the natives, the present-day 
significance which it has for them. This is set forth in a series 
of propositions laid down by one of the most distinguished of 
the younger generations of ethnologists, Professor A. R. RadclifFe- 
Brown, as a summary of his study of this same system in a West 
Australian tribe, the Kariera. He has shown, by a very thor- 
oughgoing analysis, that the same system operates throughout 
all parts of Australia concerning which we have any informa- 
tion. Ilis propositions apply, therefore, to the Aninta in the 
center of the continent as completely as to the Kariera on the 
West Coast. 

''(1) The relationship system of the Kariera tribe is not only a sys- 
tem of names or terms of address, but is preeminently a system of 
reciprocal rights and duties. A man owes the same duties (though 
not in the same degree) to all the persons to whom he applies the same 
term. Thus the relationship system regulates the w^hole social life of 
the people. 

'*(2) It is based on actual relations of consanguinity and affinity that 
can be traced by means of the genealogical knowledge preserved by the 
old men and women. 

'"(3) The recognition of relationship is so extended that everyone 
with whom an individual comes in contact in the ordinary course of 
social life is his relative. It is impossible for a man to have any social 
relations with any one who is not his relative because there is no stand- 



224 


ETHICS 


ard by which two personB in this position can regulate their conduct 
towards one another. I am compelled to treat a person differently ac- 
cording as he is my 'brother/ 'brother-in-law/ 'father' or 'uncle.' If I 
do not know which of these he is, all intercourse is impossible." * 

Our chief source of information about the aborigines of central 
Australia is the works of Messrs. Spencer and Gillen; in par- 
ticular The Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899), and The 
Northern Tribes of Central Australia (1904). The first of 
the above propositions is written over every page of these 
famous books, and that although the authors themselves are only 
half aware of the significance of the facts which they report. 
The detailed demonstration of this fact for the Arunta tribe 
would require more space than I have at my disposal. I shall 
therefore be compelled to refer the reader to the original sources 
for the concrete data on which my assertion is based, and con- 
tent myself in this place with a bare summary of a part of the 
findings. 

The most important event in the life of an Arunta youth is 
his initiation into the tribe, an elaborate ceremonial from the 
natives' point of view, lasting through a number of days. From 
start to finish almost every move is in the hands of a member 
or members of some specified class. The first step may serve as 
an illustration, since it is quite typical. When the great 
day has arrived the boy is seized without warning and carried 
off to the ceremonial ground by three young men. One of these 
is his '^older brother," that is to say a member of A, if the 
initiate is an A; the others are a *'brother-in-law" B and a 
“cross-cousin," D. This service, it must be noted, confers a cer- 
tain distinction upon those persons which they regard as a privi- 
lege, of which therefore they would not willingly be deprived. 
And if tradition demands the performance of these functions 
by representatives of just these classes, then we may be sure 
(though we are not expressly so informed) that the attainment 
of the end for which these rites are performed is for the native 
mind absolutely dependent upon exact conformity to the rules 
laid down by the wisdom of the ancestors. This end is no in- 

* "Three Tribes of Western Australia/* Journal of the Royal Anthropo- 
logical Institute, Vol. 43. 1913, p. 157. 



225 


THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 

significant matter; on the contrary it is the making of a man 
fit to play his part in the life of the tribe out of an unformed 
boy. 

After manhood comes marriage, though not so early as among 
most primitive peoples. The fundamental need of the family will 
be food, and this is supplied in accordance with the principle 
of the division of labor. The woman gathers roots and catches 
the smaller animals; the man hunts for the larger game. The 
woman’s contributions belong to the family alone; but the man’s 
must be divided according to a somewhat elaborate system. 
When the hunter brings in his kill, he must find out whether any 
of his “fathers-in-law” (older generation of H) need food. If so 
he must first distribute certain portions to them. Then he may 
supply himself, his children, and his wife. Then he must dis- 
tribute what he does not immediately need to his “sisters’ chil- 
dren” (younger generation of H), then to his “mothers-in-law” 
(G), then to his “maternal grandmothers” (C) ; finally to the 
actual father of his actual mother-in-law (a member of C). “The 
association,” write Spencer and Gillen, “is clearly between the 
man and what we may call his wife’s side of the tribe.” His con- 
tributions are, in part at least, apparently regarded as a form 
of bride price. “This giving away of food according to well estab- 
lished rules is not a custom more honored in the breach than 
the observance, but is actually carried out.” ® As the other side 
of this obligation, A must not eat food cooked or killed by any 
of the above enumerated persons. It is always his duty to serve 
them; therefore he must not accept services of this kind from 
them. 

As a member of a race endowed with little mechanical ability, 
A’s property is extremely small in amount, although what he 
has is, I suppose, as precious to him as ours is to us. Real prop- 
erty he does not own, since the land on which he lives and hunts 
belongs to the “local group,” a division of the tribe. Among the 
most valued forms of personal property is hair, which is used 
for waist girdles. For this he must look, in the main, to three 
sources: his actual mother-in-law, w’ho furnishes him his chief 
supply from his childhood; his “sons-in-law” (F) and his 

• Native Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 469, 470. 



226 


ETHICS 


*'brothers-in-Iaw” (B). If he is the oldest son he inherits, in 
addition, his father’s hair which is cut from the latter’s head at 
death. Everything else which he gets by way of inheritance 
comes to him not from his father, actual or class, but from his 
'Tathers-in-law” (H) . 

One of the most elaborate systems of rites and duties in cen- 
tral Australian tribes is that which has to do with death. *Tn 
order to gratify the spirit of the dead” the deceased must be 
properly buried and properly mourned. Tliese ceremonials are 
too complicated for description here; but the essential feature is 
that definite functions are distributed with the utmost precision 
to men and women of certain classes. The period of mourning 
lasts from twelve to eighteen months; its initial obligations will 
serve as the key to the remainder. The older A’s of his own 
generation (his older '^brothers” and ‘‘sisters”) , all the E’s, male 
and female (the class containing his “fathers” and “sons”), all 
female members of F (his “mothers”), and of G (his “mothers-in- 
law”), must never mention his name and may not go near his 
grave after the burial ceremony. Particular obligations rest upon 
his ‘*8ons-in-law” (F). They must never mention his name; they 
must not attend the funeral; nor do they take any part in the 
subsequent mourning ceremonies which are carried on at the 
grave. The reason for these forbearances is throughout the same 
and is very simple. They are such as would characterize any- 
one who was completely prostrated by grief. In addition, a 
positive duty is laid upon the “sons-in-law”; they must cut 
themselves vigorously on the shoulders with their flint knives 
as a sign of sorrow. Thus does the Australian “black fellow” 
seek to satisfy the universal craving to be remembered and 
mourned when the place which has known him shall know him 
no more. 

Death carries with it another obligation of the highest impor- 
tance. A native always dies, we remember, as the result of the 
magic spells of some enemy. If the medicine man can discover 
the identity of the murderer, it then becomes necessary to form 
an avenging party. This must be led by an actual son-in-law. 
On the other hand, curiously enough, when attempting restitu- 
tion of rights, as in recovering a run-away wife, those to whom 



THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 227 

he must look for assistance are his “brothers” (A), and his 
“cross cousins” (D). 

These, then, are some of the duties the locus of which is deter- 
mined by the Australian class system. They form only a small 
proportion of the total number; but for the remainder, I must 
refer the reader to the original source.® If we note that my duties 
towards you are your rights as against me, we shall see that the 
system consists of a great network of reciprocal rights and duties, 
in which what the individual shall do and what he shall receive 
are alike mapped out for him, at the most important points, down 
to minute details. 

Now it is obvious that the preservation of the system rests 
upon the observance of the marriage regulations. Suppose, for ex- 
ample, that A marries G instead of B. Then the expectation of 
the males of H and the females of G that they will be the re- 
cipients of certain services as “parents-in-law” will be defeated, 
while others, the males of C and the females of D will be corre- 
spondingly oversupplied. If the children of this marriage are still 
counted as E their duties to their maternal grandmother will 
have to be paid to D instead of G. No one can tell who their 
cross cousins are ; for if reckoned through the father, they would 
be D as before; but if they are to be the children of the mother's 
“brother,” one of your “key” relatives, they would be C. Clearly 
a considerable number of infringements upon the rules, especially 
if carried on through two or more generations, would wreck the 
whole scheme. It matters not how this beautifully ordered struc- 
ture was brought into existence, whether its creaters foresaw the 
nature of what they were building or not. Here it is as a fact, 
and its destruction would mean moral anarchy. Thus he who 
marries outside of his class is guilty of the unpardonable sin; 
he has done his part to undermine the foundations on which rest 
practically all the moral obligations which are recognized by 
his race. 

“The ancient Greeks,” says Schmidt, “had a very hazy notion 
of the existence of obligations to human beings as such.” ^ This 

•See in particular, Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Aus^ 
tralia, Che. VII, XII, XIII, and XIV. 

'Die Ethik der alien Gricchen, Vol. II, p. 323. 



228 


ETHICS 


statement holds in the main, as we learned in the last Chapter, 
for most primitive peoples. It is eminently true of Australia. 


‘With the help of the genealogical knowledge of the older men 
and women it is i>osaible to trace out some relationship, however dis- 
tant it may be, between any two members of the same tribe [and not 
infrequently between members of different tribes]. When a stranger 
comes to a camp that he has never visited before, he does not enter 
the camp, but remains at some distance. A few of the older men, 
after a while, approach him, and the first thing they proceed to do 
is to find out who the stranger is. The commonest question that is 
put to him is. Who is your maeli [father’s father] ?’ The discussion 
proceeds on genealogical lines until all parties are satisfied of the 
exact relation of the stranger to each of the natives present in the 
camp. When this point is reached the stranger can be admitted to the 
camp and the different men and women are pointed out to him and 
their relation to him defined. I watched two or three of these discus- 
sions in Western Australia. I took with me on my journey a native 
of the Talainji tribe, and at each native camp we came to, the same 
process had to be gone through. In one case, after a long discussion, 
they were still unable to discover any traceable relationship between 
my servant and the men of the camp. That night my ‘boy’ refused to 
sleep in the native camp, as was his usual custom, and on talking to 
him I found that he was frightened. These men were not his relatives 
and they were therefore enemies. This represents the real feeling of 
the natives on the matter. If I am a black fellow and meet another 
black fellow, that other must be either my relative or my enemy.” * 


This is said of the Kariera, but it holds without exception for 
every Australian tribe. Seen in the light of this statement these 
marriage regulations are simply one more expression of tribal 
morality. You owe duties only to your own kin. The Australian 
system determines who your kin are, distributes the consequent 
obligations, and guards the corresponding rights. 

In all this there is undoubtedly an arbitrary element. Whether 
you ought to supply food first to your mother-in-law and then 


•A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, “Three Tribes of Western Australia,” Journal of 
the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 43, p. 151. 



THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 229 

to your maternal grandmother, or the reverse, is a matter which 
can never be decided by pure reason. But the fundamentals of 
the system are not arbitrary. Morality has to do with the dis- 
tribution of good things, or values; and the Australian class 
system provides a set of precise canons or rules of service. This 
service concerns, among other things, matters so vital as the 
food supply, so vehemently desired as assistance in executing 
vengeance, so universally longed for as signs of sorrow and re- 
spect at death. The actual pattern is doubtless artificial in that 
the various rights and duties might have been arranged other- 
wise and have produced equally good results. But it is capable 
of rational justification ; first, because it deals with the distribu- 
tion of values, and secondly, because it actually operates to dis- 
tribute them satisfactorily. 

I have tried to show that what appears, when looked at in 
the abstract, to be a senseless mass of meticulous regulations, 
turns out, when examined in its relation to the concrete life of 
which it is an integral part, to be the very foundation of social 
existence. These marriage regulations thus have a maximum of 
utility for the Australian native. Is he himself conscious of this 
utility? If you ask him why A must marry B, he will answer 
‘‘because our fathers did^^; and many moralists have assumed this 
disposes of the matter. But in the first place their old men have 
been found deliberating about changes of custom, so that the 
possibility of doing things differently from what their fathers 
did has occurred to their minds, and, what is more, has been 
acted upon. Moreover, they have before them in their folklore 
pictures of the customs of their ancestors which are radically 
different, at many important points, from those which they them- 
selves practice. In the second place it is an ethnological law, 
which holds with either insignificantly few or no exceptions, 
that primitive peoples punish as a group only when each mem- 
ber feels himself personally endangered by the offense. Hence 
we are justified in inferring that the native sees in a breach of 
the marriage laws an injury to the vital interests of the tribe and 
thus to himself. Finally the notion that savages are too stupid 
to see these utilities, belongs, I think, to an outworn ethnology. 
The investigators who know him at first hand will tell you that 



230 


ETHICS 


while primitive man may be unable to grasp many things which 
interest you, he is usually quite capable of seeing anything that 
really interests him. And to the Australian native hardly any- 
thing is so interesting as kinship.* 

How Fab Have Group Uniformities Their Source in 
Authority? 

A second reason for regarding authority as a leading factor 
in the formation of moral standards is the uniformity which 
obtains in the moral ideas of individual groups, such as tribes 
or nations, compared with the profound differences often found 
between group and group. It is easy to attribute these phe- 
nomena to the authority of public opinion within the group and 
let it go at that. So this is precisely what a great many moralists 
have done. 

Before examining this explanation it will perhaps be advisable 
to remind the reader once more of the distinction between inner 
and outer morality. The latter, as may be remembered, resolves 
itself chiefly into a matter of opinion about the effects of action.® 
It might prove interesting to analyze the power of authority to 
determine ideas of cause and effect; but such an inquiry would 
lead too far away from the proper problems of ethics. I shall 
therefore confine myself to a study of the role of authority in 
shaping judgments upon volitions. 

Every moral judgment contains two elements: an intellectual 
and a ''volitional.” Right represents the way we want human 
beings as such to treat each other. Often we do not know what 
we want, i.e, what will really satisfy our desires.^^ Knowledge 
of what we want involves the activity of the intellect. Besides 
this, there is the desire itself from which the knowledge as to 
w'hat will satisfy it must start and with which it must end. This 
is the volitional factor. With it our analysis of the phenomena 
of group uniformity will do best to begin. 

1. The forms taken by benevolence and malevolence may 

♦ See Notes, XII, “The Source of the Australian Class System,” p. 506. 

•See above, Chapter IX, page 148. 

** See below, Chapter XXI, page 451. 

“See above, Chapter VII, page 111. 



THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 231 

vary from race to race and even from tribe to tribe as the result 
of the workings of heredity. The variations in benevolence may 
consist of differences in its sensitiveness to the appeal of human 
welfare under varying conditions, or differences in the extent 
to which it is affected by the stimulants and depressants enume- 
rated in Chapter V. A parallel statement could easily be formu- 
lated for malevolence. 

Heredity may enter in a second way. Eudemonic judgments 
demand a volition directed to the attainment of the good. But 
again as a matter of native endowment there may be great dif- 
ferences in tastes and interests as between race and race and 
tribe and tribe. An illustration of this fact is the varying value 
attributed to conjugal affection in different parte of the world, 
although environmental forces undoubtedly enter as determinants 
also. Judgments of value, as we have seen, profoundly affect 
standards of right and wrong.^* 

The members of a race or tribe are likely to have, to a con- 
siderable extent, a common ancestry. Hence many uniformities in 
moral judgments are due to nothing more recondite than com- 
munity of blood. 

2. The actual w’orkings of benevolence and malevolence and 
their stimulants and depressants are subject to the influence of 
a large number of conditions. Where these conditions are uniform 
the results tend to be uniform also. The network of forces which 
produce the phenomena of tribal morality will serve as an illus- 
tration. 

3. The facts noted in the preceding paragraph point to the 
existence of potentialities which may or may not be realized, 
according as circumstances are favorable or otherwise. An im- 
portant circumstance is the desires and emotions of those about 
us. Fear, anger, and disgust are notoriously contagious. Benevo- 
lence and malevolence may perhaps not be equally mobile, but 
the undoubted and extensive influence of example is in part a 
consequence and thus a proof of capacity for being moved; and 
this statement applies not merely to the action for which they 
serve as motives, but also to the judgments of which they are 
the source. 

“See above, Cha{]fter XI, pp. 197-201. 



232 


ETHICS 


4. Professor Seelye, the historian, has packed into a single 
sentence more insight into these phenomena than will commonly 
be found elsewhere in whole chapters. ''Custom/' he writes, "dulls 
the sensibilities and puts the critical faculty to sleep.” Here 
we come upon one of the most striking paradoxes in morals. 
Custom means a mode of action common to a group of persons; 
and the paradox lies in the fact that these modes of external 
action can affect men's ideals of action, what is producing an 
idea of what ought to be. We shall begin by considering the effects 
upon the sensibilities. 

As we saw in Chapter V we tend to grow callous to the suf- 
ferings of others when they are too continuously before our eyes, 
especially when we do nothing to prevent or relieve them. Hence 
we tend to grow callous also to the infliction of suffering, at least 
where we ourselves are not the victims. The number of possible 
illustrations is legion. We remember the experience of the boy 
who on entering an English public school was intensely wrought 
up by the sight of flogging, but later came to watch it with 
actual amusement. To most people of English race the bull- 
fight is a revolting spectacle, as seen for the first time. But an 
American woman who has a husband infatuated with the sport, 
and who considers it desirable to accompany him to the bull 
ring, informs me that although at first she found the spectacle 
almost intolerable, now after witnessing some thirty or forty 
performances, she has lost entirely her former feeling of re- 
pugnance, and on the whole, rather enjoys it. 

5. "Custom puts the critical faculty to sleep.” What we are 
used to tends to be taken as a matter of course and more or less 
completely ignored. How many persons ever ask themselves why 
the sun rises and sets; or, if you prefer, why the earth turns 
on its axis? Similarly, who raises the question of the rights of 
animals when ordering beefsteak for dinner? Mr. J. A. Thayer, 
a pioneer in the field of honest advertising, once wrote under 
the name of a friend, the following letter to Mr. Robert Collier, 
then proprietor and editor of Collier's Weekly: "I see Collier's 
every week, and find in it patent medicine and other advertise- 

^Bece Homo, p. 2!4. 



233 


THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 

ments which the Ladies^ Home Journal and the Delineator do 
not insert. Why do you accept such advertising? I am sure you 
do not need the money.” In a very short time he received the 
following reply from Mr. Collier himself : “Upon receipt of your 
letter I called our advertising staff together, and we have de- 
cided, as soon as certain contracts are completed, to discontinue 
the insertion of such advertising.” Mr. Collier was a business 
man of very high character who had adopted certain practices 
of the day without thinking anything about their morality one 
way or the other till challenged by a more penetrating or more 
reflective mind. Many people think in ruts formed for them 
largely by others ; and much of the time they do not think consec- 
utively at all, except as some disturber of the peace comes along 
and wakes them from their dogmatic slumber. 

6. If the critical faculty does wake up, it may be restored to 
its normal state by any one of several soothing considerations. 
Here are the two that are most effective. 

а. What everybody does repeatedly and openly, everybody 
must regard as at least innocent if not positively right. But it is 
impossible that everyone should be mistaken. Therefore in the 
field of conduct at least, whatever is, is right. 

б. Present institutions and modes of action may not be en- 
tirely satisfactory, but any change might turn out in the end 
to be a change for the worse. We shall therefore do best to stand 
by the old and tried ways. 

These are not the only forces tending to produce uniformity 
of standard within a group, but as far as I can see they are the 
most important ones. Among them we find authority in one of its 
embodiments, namely public opinion, whether expressing itself 
in actions (6a), or more explicitly in actual judgments. There 
are other vehicles of authority — the prophet (major or minor) of 
some new dispensation, or more narrowly of some new attitude 
towards human rights, and the gods, or God. The former is apt 
to lead not to conformity, but to variation from type; the 
latter may be conservative or radical in influence as circum- 
stances may determine. Thus we reach the position of an earlier 

**J. A. Thayer, Attir, A Publisher's Life Story , p. 205. 



234 


ETHICS 


page. Authority is a real force in the determination of moral 
judgments; but it is far from being the sole agency responsible 
for the observable distribution of moral ideals. 

Is Authority a Creative Factor in Morals? 

Furthermore, it seems indisputable that authority has intro- 
duced into the code of the race little that is new or different from 
what would otherwise have been there. Its role has been that 
of diffusion rather than of creation. In the old days when the 
mere word “evolution” acted like champagne, it used to be 
alleged that all our moral standards had their source in the 
commands of an egoistic ruler. If this meant that a complete 
egoist by bullying his fellow egoists could in some way evoke 
standards of morality, I have said all that I intend to on the 
subject in Chapters V and VI. If, however, the picture before the 
mind was that of an average primitive community where by the 
side of much egoism there dwells a not inconsiderable amount of 
genuine altruism, then any modifications which a chief or a ruling 
class might feel moved to introduce into the moral code of the 
community would have to run two gauntlets: first, that of the 
ruler^s own conscience ; second, that of the conscience of his sub- 
jects. Of the latter, I have spoken at sufficient length. The former 
is not to be ignored, as it is usually. It tends, at least, to limit the 
prescriptions of autocracy within the bounds of apparent fairness. 
This seems to be the explanation of the empirically observable 
fact that the moral judgments of the race do not take on an 
indefinite variety of forms, but almost always represent what 
is patently some mode of the eudemonic or the dysdemonic 
judgment. 

The Role of Custom in the Formation of Moral Judgments 

While examining the credentials of authority as a factor in 
the development of moral ideals, we have been at the same time 
analysing the case in behalf of a related but distinct claimant 
for honors. Perhaps the most popular ethical theory today is that 
which attributes the origin of moral distinctions to “custom.” 
Custom, as we have seen, means a mode of action common to a 
group of persons; and to be really worthy of the name, it must 



THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 23 S 

be one which has prevailed for a not inconsiderable period of 
time. This uniformity of action is supposed to have the power 
directly to make those who come under its influence, in particular 
the rising generation, believe that its ways are right. How this 
uniformity ever came into existence, and why the fact that every- 
one actually treats everyone else in a certain way should make 
us want everyone to treat everyone else in this way (which is 
what is meant by right), the proponents of this theory have 
never succeeded in explaining. Indeed, they have never really 
attempted to explain it. Of course, if custom is understood as 
meaning not merely modes of action, but morally approved 
modes of action, then custom is but another name for a certain 
form of authority, i.c. that of public opinion. In that interpreta- 
tion, however, it has already been discussed. If, on the other 
hand, it really means what it says, namely, that in case most 
people do a thing a long while, everyone will end by wanting 
everyone (including himself) to do it, then, apart from its inner 
incoherence, it can easily be shown to be fundamentally false. 

Let us see how the case stands among ourselves. A student 
attending a university in the northern part of the United States 
wears a straw hat all winter on a wager. This was certainly some- 
thing unheard of — was it then regarded as an act of unheard of 
wickedness? People no longer attempt to eat peas with a knife. 
Do we regard the rebels who ignore this convention in the same 
light as a man who swindles a widow out of her life insurance? 
These questions and thousands like them answer themselves. We 
can as easily distinguish the unconventional or *^qucer” from 
moral delinquency as we can black from white. And in view of 
the substantial identity of the primitive mind and our own, as 
demonstrated by the field ethnologists of our generation, we are 
justified in attributing the same capacity to the savage until 
the contrary has been demonstrated. Such demonstration is 
farther away today than it ever was before. One of our leading 
ethnologists, Bronislaw Malinowski, has been spending the 
greater part of the past ten years among the natives of north- 
western Melanesia. He imderstands their language, and unlike 
most of his fellow workers, is acquainted with the problems 
of ethics. His recently published book. Crime and Custom in 



236 


ETHICS 


Savage Society (1926) deals the reigning theories as to the 
place of blind custom in primitive society a tremendous blow. 
The honors will certainly remain with him until a number of 
equally painstaking studies have proved that the author’s mate- 
rial is not typical. And I believe those who are acquainted with 
the work of our contemporary field ethnologists will hardly ex- 
pect any such proof to be forthcoming. 

CONCLUBIONB 

In view of the preceding survey we are justified, I think, in 
reasserting the conclusions of the last Chapter. 

1. The moral consciousness of the race is essentially one; the 
ultimate source of our moral judgments is always a certain atti- 
tude towards good or evil. Authority may help to bring home 
some obligations which might otherwise not be recognized; it 
may prevent a good many from being noticed which a fully 
enlightened and completely informed conscience would demand. 
But apparently it can do little towards making the valueless 
seem obligatory or the valuable seem wrong. Apparently also it 
can accomplish little when it runs counter to any strong native 
bent. Precisely how much influence it possesses, no one has as yet 
taken the trouble to determine. But we may assert without dog- 
matism, I believe, that it is far less than it is at present fashion- 
able to assume. 

2. Authority obviously has no validity except as it points to 
truth. There is such a thing as truth in the moral world; that 
is to say that there is such a thing as a valid standard. The 
settled opinions of the race, representing centuries of reflection 
upon conduct, are to be treated with a great deal of respect as 
exponents of moral truth. In fact, the burden of proof is defi- 
nitely upon those who reject them. Public opinion, however, is 
not infallible, and must never be treated as if it were. 

I must add a final word on a matter of great practical im- 
portance. There are several ways of getting others to accept our 
own opinions in matters of right and wrong. One is the appeal to 
authority, whether that of God, of the community, of the wise 
and good, or of myself. But if there is any truth in the conten- 
tions of this Chapter, another line of approach is open to us 



THE INFLUENCE OF AUTHORITY 237 

which is likely to be found more effective. For one thing it is 
capable of producing real conviction, not the mere belief that 
you believe; and thus a conviction which will be able to stand 
the shock of conflict with an opposing authority. This alternative 
method may take several forms, of which I will mention two. 
First, we may show our hearer that the position for which we 
stand is logically involved in one which he himself firmly and 
whole-heartedly accepts. This was Nathan^s method with David 
in the matter of Bathsheba. But there is another alternative 
which is frequently to be preferred. *T was once driven off a field 
where I was picking berries,” writes one of Professor Dewey’s 
respondents. “This made a great impression upon me and led to 
questions regarding the right of others to be so exclusive. The 
effectual appeal always lay in being led to put myself in the 
place of others.” At the end of Chapter VIII in this book appears 
the following statement: That conduct is right which a judge 
would desire who was able to put himself completely in the 
position of each and every person making up the situation, and 
thus to realize to the full precisely what the proposed course of 
action w^ould mean to all. In proportion as we are able to induce 
in others this state of mind, just in that proportion shall we be 
able to lead their consciences to valid judgment and their wills 
to right actions. 



Chapter XIII 

RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 

The last Chapter completed our account of judgments of right. 
Nevertheless we are not yet entirely quit of the subject. Chap- 
ter IV asserted that the object of the moral judgment is the voli- 
tion imbedded in the act. Now if moral responsibility means 
that one is a proper object of moral approbation or disapproba- 
tion, the fundamental condition of responsibility for a state of 
things must be the fact that it was produced by the volition of 
the agent. On this point everyone is agreed. But many moralists 
hold that a second condition is equally essential. The volition, 
they claim, must be one that arose in consciousness without a 
cause. Such volitions they call free. And in their opinion, ac- 
cordingly, there can be no moral responsibility without this 
kind of freedom. 

As will appear in the course of the following discussion I 
myself do not accept this view. I hold that the sole condition of 
moral responsibility is the determination of an act by a volition. 
But the opposing voices are too numerous and too influential 
to be ignored. It therefore seems necessary to examine their argu- 
ments. Unfortunately the term moral responsibility itself is vari- 
ously defined. We shall therefore have to begin with an attempt 
to ascertain its meaning. 


I 

The Meaning op Moral Responsibility 
Responsibility is often defined as liability to punishment, but 
this definition is at once too narrow and too broad. In the first 
place I may injure the property of another, as a house of which 
I am the tenant, whether by accident or otherwise. Here responsi- 
bility for the loss to the owner means that I am held to make 
compensation, a term of a very different order from punishment. 

238 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 239 

In the second place, I may become liable to punishment where 
I should utterly repudiate all responsibility. Thus a teacher once 
threatened her entire class with detention after school at hard 
labor if any one of them was caught whispering during the ap- 
proaching address of a local notable. Accordingly when one small 
boy braved — or forgot — the consequences and communicated 
his thoughts to a neighbor during the period of prohibition, all 
his classmates were punished with him. Thereupon the fathers 
of some of the boys who had obeyed orders informed the prin- 
cipal in no uncertain terms that they did not regard their sons 
as responsible for the breach of decorum. As there may be lia- 
bility to punishment without responsibility, so there may be 
responsibility without liability to punishment. There are all sorts 
of minor, and some forms of major wrong-doing for which the 
agent is fully responsible but to which no penalty, in the proper 
sense of the term, is ever attached. Finally, responsibility may 
be imputed for good deeds with the same propriety as for evil 
ones, as where we say that a certain man was responsible for 
the success of a drive for the benefit of the city hospital. 

These facts justify certain conclusions which are obvious 
enough, but w’hich are implicitly denied in an extraordinarily 
large proportion of the discussions of this subject. Legal re- 
sponsibility is one thing; moral responsibility, of which alone we 
have been speaking, is quite another. Legal responsibility does 
mean, in part, liability to punishment. But so far are legal and 
moral responsibility apart that the latter can not even be defined 
as deserving of punishment, unless every blameworthy act and 
forbearance ought to be punished, and unless it ought to be a 
penal offense to manage a drive for charity. 

What then do we mean by moral responsibility? A man is said 
to be morally responsible for a benefit or injury when, because 
of it, he is a proper object of moral approbation or disapproba- 
tion. By proper is meant that the approbation is not due to 
some error in observation or reasoning on the part of the judge, 
but that it would remain what it is upon a complete view of the 
relation of the agent to the results of his action. Punishment is 
thus at most a consequence of moral responsibility, not its essence. 

We are said to be responsible for our actions. But the word 



240 


ETHICS 


action, as we saw in Chapter IV, is ambiguous. It may cover the 
volition alone, or this plus the bodily movements which it has 
caused, or these plus the results which followed the movements, 
at least as many of them as were foreseen, or could have been 
foreseen. Now it must be noted that it is primarily the second or 
third of these items for which responsibility may be imputed. 
A window is broken in a schoolhouse basement; the money which 
was in my pocket when I left home has disappeared; Madeleine 
is crying. Here is an unfortunate situation; who, if any one, is 
responsible for it? These illustrations show that what a man is 
responsible for is always some “state of things,” whether in the 
world of matter or of consciousness, for which he is properly 
liable to approbation or disapprobation. 

The Fundamental Condition of Moral Responsibility 

The object of the moral judgment, as we have seen, is volition. 
If so, the fundamental condition of responsibility is that the 
state of things shall be the consequence of a volition. This is 
but another way of saying that voluntary actions are the sole 
object of the moral judgment.^ 

Freedom op Action: Its Meaning and Its Relation to 
Responsibility 

In so far as circumstances permit the volition to attain its 
end, that is to say, to bring into existence the state of things at 
which it aims, the agent may be said to be free, in one very 
important sense of this slippery term. It follows from the preced- 
ing that freedom in this sense — freedom of action, as it may be 
called — is the fundamental condition of moral responsibility. 
Whether it is the sole condition is a matter of controversy, but 
that it is one condition, and an essential one, is admitted by 
everybody. 


How Freedom op Action May Be Lost 
The significance of this form of freedom will perhaps best be 
realized if we inquire by what means it may be suspended or 
* See Chapter IV, page 62. 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 241 

lost. First in importance are the superior forces of the material 
world, whether wielded by or incorporated in other human beings 
or not. Thus Jean Valjean was not free to save his sister and 
her children from starvation when he was chained to a galley 
bench, because even if he had tried to go to her aid he could 
not have succeeded in getting away. Secondly, there are the 
forces of which a man’s own body is the seat. The paralytic 
member of a family is not free to save others, or himself, when 
the house is on fire. Again freedom may be limited by forces of 
which the mind is the seat. The facts are so important for a 
theory of criminal responsibility that they may be worth a 
moment’s examination. 

In volition, as we have seen, there is the idea of an end, a state 
of things which it is possible to bring about by my action, and 
this end is ^^adopted” by the “will,” or more accurately by the 
self. The essential feature in volition is desire. In the simplest 
cases there is no opposition to the desire. The reader, for ex- 
ample, wishes to know something about the moral ideas of 
primitive peoples; there is an idea of self as possessing certain 
knowledge, and this idea attracts. If the end is attainable by 
present action, such action thereupon takes place. In more com- 
plicated cases two or more incompatible ends solicit the will. A 
man, for example, wishes to go to the theater this evening; he 
also wishes to stay with a sick friend who needs his presence. 
Between these alternatives he must choose. Here it is often said 
the desires “struggle with each other and the stronger wins.” I 
do not think this an entirely accurate, or even intelligible ac- 
count of what happens; but it will serve our purpose, for it at 
all events points to a very significant fact. Volition is a matter 
of desire; and in choice we accept that alternative, which, on 
the whole, under the existing conditions, represents what we 
really want. 

Now volition is rendered impotent and thus unfree by any 
force which produces actions contrary to its demands. There 
is, for example, a great group of actions which are instinctive in 
the proper sense of that very much misused term. “Instinct,” says 
Professor James, “is usually defined as the faculty of acting in 



242 


ETHICS 


such a way as to produce certain ends, without foresight of the 
ends, and without previous education in the performance.” * 
This is an excellent definition, even though Professor James him- 
self does not stick to it. As thus defined, instinct, which is the 
characteristic feature of animal life, and, it may be added, of 
the first months of human life, does not play a large role in the 
actions of adult men. Winking when a finger is poked at your 
eyes, or sneezing, will serve as examples. In either you may 
indeed know that you are going to act, but this knowledge does 
not produce the muscular contractions; an unexpected sneeze 
goes off just as well as an expected one. To instincts should be 
added the expressions of the emotions and of the feelings of 
pleasure and pain, as laughter, or the cry of agony. Ordinarily 
all these reactions can be suppressed at will ; but sometimes they 
get out of hand and take place in opposition to the strongest 
effort. In such cases action is of course unfree. 

The significance of these facts for a theory of criminal re- 
sponsibility consists in the light they throw on what may happen 
in mental disease. Speaking of a certain patient Dr. Maudsley 
writes: “Suddenly on some occasions his mental suffering rises 
to such a pitch of anguish or agony that he falls into a paroxysm 
of frenzy, during which he loses all self-control, and does vio- 
lence to himself or someone else, not knowing at the time what 
he is doing, and being horror stricken afterwards when he 
realizes what he has done.” ® 

A stage psychologically higher than instinct is reached in what 
is called “ideo-motor action.” This rests on the principle that 
the bare idea of an action tends to produce the action itself, and 
will produce it unless there is some conflicting idea in the mind. 
This inhibiting force may be a volition, or it may be the bare 
idea of not performing the action. Ideo-motor action is an in- 
dispensable element of life, for it accounts for most of the routine 
of the day. Occasionally, however, it gets us into trouble. This 
is when, as we explain to our friends, we act or speak before 
we think. We certainly do think of the action or the words; 
otherwise nothing would happen. What we do not think of is the 

* Principles of Psychology, Vol. 11, p. 383. 

* Responsibility in Menial Disease, p. 187. 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 243 

consequences; and the whole performance takes place so quickly 
that desire has no chance to make itself felt. It is obvious that 
in pathological states, as drunkenness or mental disease, where 
the thought of an action is quick and the thought of the conse- 
quences slow in coming, there is an enormous opportunity for 
actions to take place which are demonstrably unfree.^ 

The principle that the idea of an action tends to produce action 
is responsible for another set of limitations upon freedom which 
are of both theoretical and practical importance. In such diseases 
as suicidal or homicidal mania, or kleptomania the idea of a 
criminal action haunts the mind and can not be driven out. 
Furthermore, in extreme cases, it actually produces the corre- 
sponding action, in spite of the most heroic efforts to prevent 
the catastrophe. What happens is that the volition loses its 
normal inhibiting power. ^^Before his confinement at Bicetre a 
fit of madness came upon [a certain victim of homicidal mania] 
in his own house. He immediately warned his wife of it, to 
whom he was much attached; and he had only time to cry out to 
her to run away lest he should bring her to a violent death.'' ® 
If this sounds paradoxical let the reader consult someone who 
has experienced the impulse to throw himself into running water 
or from the edge of a cliff. As one who once knew the former 
impulse at first hand I can testify that there is not the faintest 
desire to let oneself go, but merely an insistent idea of going, 
which can be prevented from producing action only by keeping 
the idea of not doing it firmly before the mind. In homicidal 
mania the inhibiting idea, even when backed by the strongest 
volition, has lost its normal power of control. 

Cases such as these must not be confused with another situa- 
tion with which they are sometimes identified. A prisoner of war 
may be subjected to the most horrible torture in order to extort 
from him information about the enemy's movements. When un- 
der such circumstances a man yields, we are inclined to excuse 

*On ideo-motor action consult James' Principles of Psychology, Vol. II, 
pp. 486-494, 518-528. The numerous criticisms which have been leveled 
at this doctrine seem to me to leave the foundation unshaken. 

•Maudsley, Op. cii,, p. 142. “Madness” here does not mean delusional 
insanity. It is simply a name for the seizure here described. There is an 
account of a parallel case in the Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 7, p. 831. 



244 


ETHICS 


him. But we do this upon an entirely different ground from that 
which leads us to relieve from responsibility the victim of 
homicidal mania. This will be clear if we remember that some 
men under such circumstances hold out to the very end. This has 
been true of the lowly Terra del Fuegan savages as it has been 
of the proudest Roman hero. Such a man we admire as a demi- 
god. In others words, he is the object of a very definite moral 
judgment. If the weaker man yields, we merely refuse to blame. 
The reason, however, is that we seldom actually blame anyone 
unless he falls below the average of attainment with which we 
happen to be familiar. In the same way to tax a man with 
stupidity is to place him below the average of intelligence of 
his community or group. Praise begins when we pass this point. 
When a man surrenders to threats of loss or to the pressure of 
pain he is thus still within the jurisdiction of the moral law, 
for while he yielded under pressure, nevertheless his yielding 
was an act of his will. The door of this castle was unbolted from 
within. 

The illustration of the preceding paragraph shows that with 
changing conditions the area of freedom may vary in extent. A 
man who is stretched on the rack to compel him to reveal a 
secret is not free to save himself both from suffering pain and 
betraying his country. He is free to take but one. The same is 
true of the wayfarer who is held up at the point of a revolver 
with the demand: ^^Your money or your life.” If the traveler 
had been killed without challenge, if the thoughts of the guardian 
of the secret could have been seen by a “mind-reader,” the 
option would not have arisen. As it is, the actors about whom 
these dramas centered could still will, though within a narrow 
range; and the question is accordingly in order, was their choice 
a right one? In other words they still possess freedom, in the same 
way that a man with only half a dollar in his pocket has money. 
And in the first case as in the second the little they have may be 
very significant. 


Diffebbnt Levels of Fbeedom 

As the term has been used in the two preceding sections a 
man is free when he drinks a glass of whiskey, well knowing that 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 


245 


this is but the first step leading to a drunken debauch, and this 
in its turn the prelude to the loss of his job, with its consequences, 
poverty and disgrace. Yet such a man is also said to be a slave. 
This fact calls our attention to the existence of different levels 
of freedom. The whiskey-drinker is free when stepping off into the 
abyss, in a perfectly definite and very important sense of the 
term freedom, in that the contractions of the muscles which 
bring the glass to his lips and send the liquor down his throat 
are the results of a volition. But the desire which constitutes the 
volition is only a momentary desire. Later he will wish with all 
his soul that he had willed otherwise. Accordingly a higher level 
of freedom has been attained when a man is able to move his 
body, or refrain from moving it in response to his most enduring 
desires. In everyday language such a person is said to have self- 
control, or strength of will. The ideal to which the passing 
impulse is subjected need not be especially lofty; this form of 
freedom may be realized equally in the miser and the philanthro- 
pist. Each of these, however, stands upon a much higher psy- 
chological plane than he for whom the interests of tomorrow 
or next week are for all practical purposes non-existent. This is 
the freedom, not from law but from slavery, of which Spinoza 
writes in the last two books of his ethics.* It is not bestowed in 
equal degree upon all men, but, as will be pointed out later, it 
can be obtained by anyone who is sufficiently anxious for it to 
undergo the necessary discipline. 

Indeterminism and Determinism 
Freedom as defined in the preceding section refers to the rela- 
tionship between volition and some **state of things,*^ that is to 
say, some situation or condition existing in the world of matter 
or consciousness. A man is free in this sense of the term in so far 
as he is able to bring into existence those states of things 
which he wills to produce; and, as everyone recognizes, it is only 
as he possesses this freedom that he can be regarded as respon- 
sible. But some moralists claim that in addition a second kind 
of freedom is indispensable to responsibility, namely, the freedom 
of the volition from all causes of whatever kind. In making this 
•See especially Book IV, “Introduction.” 



246 


ETHICS 


claim they raise two questions: First, What is the nature of this 
alleged freedom? Second, What is the evidence that there can be 
no responsibility except where such freedom is a fact? We shall 
begin with the former. 

The law of causation declares that every event has a cause 
and under the same circumstances the same cause will be fol- 
lowed by the same effect. We all recognize that this law applies 
without exception to the movements of material objects and to 
the rise in consciousness of our sensations, thoughts, beliefs, 
emotions, and feelings of pleasure and pain. We all recognize 
also that it holds for the manifestations of instinct, in the exact 
sense of this term, and indeed for the entire field of actions in 
which volition plays no part. But volitions themselves, according 
to the theory we are examining, are outside the jurisdiction of 
the law. Some representatives of this view maintain this holds 
for all volitions; others, more cautious, claim this exemption 
only for certain ones, those namely in which there are two or 
more alternatives before the mind, each of which really attracts.^ 
This means that the volition which rejects the suggestion that I 
kill my best friend or throw all my money into the nearest 
stream might be caused, whereas the decision to restore to its 
owner a lost purse, when made by a man of high principles 
who is very much pressed for money, would be uncaused. The 
ideas of keeping and of returning the purse admittedly had their 
causes, whether these were the words of another person, or the 
result of the workings of the laws of association in his own 
mind. Vainly would you seek, however, in the man’s character 
or anywhere else for the cause of the adoption or rejection of the 
suggestion. This is a causeless event. 

The view that there are causeless volitions is called Indeter- 
minism, and the freedom of volition from the law of causation 
is called the “freedom of indetermination.” The opposing view 
which maintains that all volitions, like everything else, have their 
cause, is called Determinism. 

’See James’ Principles of PsycMopy, Vol. II, p. 577. 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 


247 


The Indeterminist Doctrine op Moral RESPONsiBiLiTy 

We have discovered what is meant by this alleged freedom of 
indetermination. It now remains to inquire what evidence is 
offered for the proposition that it is a necessary condition of 
moral responsibility. The essential features of the typical argu- 
ment for this position are faithfully represented, it seems to me, 
in the following quotation from a book which was rather widely 
read a generation ago: 

‘‘The universal existence of a moral consciousness [z. e., a sense of 
moral responsibility, is] absolutely inconsistent with the notion of 
automatism [by this term is meant Determinism]. Our feelings of 
approval or disapproval in regard to human conduct are of an order 
widely different from those we entertain in regard to any kind of 
mechanical action. I have no moral approbation for the chronometer 
whose perfect timekeeping gives the true place of a ship at sea, such 
as I have for the maker of that chronometer, whom I know to have 
put forth his utmost skill in its construction, careless of advantage to 
himself, but thinking only of the human lives he helps to save. Nor 
have I any moral disapprobation for a watch whose stopping or bad 
going causes me to incur serious detriment by missing a railroad train, 
such as I have for the workman whose carelessness in putting the 
watch together proves to be the occasion of my misfortune. Yet upon 
the automatist theory neither of these human agents could help doing 
exactly what he did ; and I am, therefore, alike unreasonable in blaming 
the man who has caused me injury, and in commending the man who 
has done good service.'' * 

Dr. Carpenter, as will be observed, is attempting to prove his 
thesis by convicting Determinists of inconsistency in that, while 
they would never think of blaming a watch for ^‘going wrong," 
they do not hesitate to blame a man that goes wrong. The exact 
nature of his charge, together with the reply of the Determinist, 
will appear, I believe, if we get the issue in controversy clearly 
before us. Both Indeterminist and Determinist agree that there 
is at least one condition of moral responsibility, namely freedom 
of action as above defined. The Indeterminist claims and the 
Determinist denies that there is in addition a second condition, 
namely freedom of indetermination. When the evidence for this 
second affirmation is demanded, the Indeterminist says: ‘^Deter- 
minism destroys all differences between a man and a watch, so 

* W. B. Carpenter, Mental Phyeiology, Preface to 4th Edition, p. XXX. 



248 


ETHICS 


that it is inconsistent to hold the first responsible for the harm 
which he does, when you do not do the same for the second; a 
consistent Determinist would feel as little moral disapprobation 
for a bad man as a bad watch.” To this charge the Determinist 
replies: ”We should be inconsistent in blaming the man and not 
blaming the watch only if, on our theory, there were no difference 
between the two. But as we all agree there is a difference: the 
actions of the man are the products of volition, while the 'ac- 
tions' of the watch are not. And this difference is all-important 
because, as everyone admits, the presence of the volition is a 
necessary condition of responsibility.” If the Indeterminist an- 
swers, "Yes, but there must also be a second condition namely 
an uncaused volition,” the Determinist responds, "This is pre- 
cisely the point to be proved. You have not proved it but only 
asserted it. And he who in an argument merely asserts the truth 
of that which he is pretending to prove is guilty of begging the 
question.” 

The preceding analysis will enable us to avoid the confusion of 
mind underlying the following assertion made by one of the 
ablest defenders of Indeterminism: "That no man can be under 
a moral obligation to do what it is impossible for him to do . . . 
is an axiom as self-evident as any in mathematics.”® Here a 
statement true of freedom in the first sense of the term is applied 
to freedom in the second. Ordinarily when I say that the attain- 
ment of a given end is impossible I mean I could not bring it 
into existence however much I might want to. If I then refrain 
from acting I obviously am not liable to moral blame because 
my forbearance is not due to any flaw in my will. Such a for- 
bearance, however, is obviously a very different thing from one 
whose sole source is unwillingness to act. 

The fact is that the stock arguments for the Indeterministic 
theory of responsibility are nothing but a more or less elaborate 
series of pirns. Some assertion is put forward which holds beyond 
question for freedom of action. Thereupon it is claimed to have 
been demonstrated for freedom of indetermination. The passage 
from the one to the other is made possible by calling each simply 
"freedom.” 

•Reid, Active Powers^ Essay IV, Ch. VTI. 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 


249 


The Detebmikist Doctrine of RESPONSiBiLrrY 

In opposition to the contention of Indeterminists, the Deter- 
xninist maintains that so far from the moral value of conduct 
being destroyed if it is caused, on the contrary the value of a 
thing depends solely upon what it is, not upon how it comes to 
be what it is; that a volition, therefore, is neither better nor 
worse for having this or that cause, or no cause whatever. This 
is recognized by both parties to the controversy for every other 
form of personal excellence except the moral. A stroke of genius 
or a piece of stupidity, an expression of vulgarity or good taste, 
a ready response or a chilly indifference to the call of affection 
or the attractions of the beautiful — these things all have their 
causes, yet they may be the objects of praise or condemnation. 
Whence this alleged difference in our attitude as between moral 
and non-moral excellence? It can not lie in the fact that the 
former are more valuable than the latter, for this would only 
justify a more vigorous approbation or disapprobation, or pos- 
sibly a feeling towards it of a different nature, but not a demand 
for a different relation to the law of causation. I suspect it is due 
principally to the chronic failure of Indeterminists to distin- 
guish between the two senses of the term freedom, and their 
inveterate habit of applying to the second assertions which hold 
only for the first. 

The Determinist claims, then, that the value of a thing de- 
pends not upon its origin but upon its nature. If this proposition 
is not self-evident on immediate inspection, its truth can be 
shown by an analysis of the values which attach to a good 
volition. 

A volition is pronounced right, as we have learned in previous 
chapters, first because it is useful as a means to the attain- 
ment of goods outside of itself. This is its extrinsic value; and 
this value, obviously, remains unchanged whether the volition 
is caused or not, precisely as does the utility of intellectual gifts 
or physical strength. But volitions possess in addition certain 
intrinsic values. These also subsist in entire independence of 
the truth of the contentions of Indeterminists. One element in 
character which possesses intrinsic value is its ability to evoke 



250 


ETHICS 


admiration. One object of admiration, as we remember, is power; 
and the power of the will is not unlike that which when dis- 
played in the majesty of the mountain or the sweep of the ocean, 
arouses the emotion of the sublime. The sublime, however, 
derives none of its impressiveness from any supposition that it 
may be uncaused. And what is true of this form of beauty of 
character is equally true of all the rest. Another factor in the 
value which character possesses in the eyes of a good man 
is the congeniality of spirit to which it points — one of the most 
precious things in life. Here again, unless some reason can be 
shown why we should treat congeniality of moral interests on a 
different plane from any other form of congeniality, the question 
of causation is irrelevant. When Samuel Johnson felt like hug- 
ging Adam Smith on discovering that the latter liked rhyme, 
he certainly did not stop to inquire whether this taste was 
uncaused. 

There still remains one factor which plays a role of the first 
importance in all moral condemnation, the emotion of anger or 
resentment. Can we justify our resentment against wrong-doing 
if the latter is at bottom precisely as inevitable under the con- 
ditions as intellectual stupidity or physical deformity? This 
question is really a double one. It asks first whether, as a matter 
of fact, we should feel no resentment if we did not suppose 
that the volition which evokes our anger was uncaused? It asks, 
in the second place, whether, in case resentment did make its 
appearance notwithstanding our belief in the determination of 
volitions, we should regard it as a feeling which we ought to 
try to suppress? These two questions can be answered together. 

Resentment, we remember, tends to arise as a reaction to any 
cause of pain. A tangled fish line, a blow in a boxing match, 
the stupidity of a servant whom we know to be doing her best, — 
these things and countless others like them are liable to arouse 
anger.^® By what process, then, do we come to confine its ex- 
pression with fair success to the volitions of human beings? 
Resentment seeks to give pain; and of course we know that 
our impulse can not attain its end where inanimate objects are 
concerned. The door that slammed and hit us in the face does 

“Chapter V, page 89 ff. 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 251 

not in the least mind being kicked. Accordingly after a time we 
attempt to control the impulse to do so. When we are injured 
through the stupidity of another person our desire to retaliate 
could of course achieve its end. Many people therefore allow 
themselves this form of self-indulgence — some of them very 
freely. But a thoughtful man will recognize that in thus letting 
himself go he is inflicting pain without doing any counter- 
balancing good. A stupid person can not help his stupidity, in 
the sense that however much he may wish to rid himself of it, 
it will remain. Accordingly a man of any humanity will control, 
or seek to control the expression of bad temper in this case, just 
as he does when the offender is a slamming door. When it comes, 
however, to injuries having their source in the will, the situation 
is a very different one. No one becomes angry in order to prevent 
the aggressor from repeating his offense, any more than he feels 
fear for the purpose of keeping himself out of danger. But the 
expression of anger is under the control of the will. We can 
let it leap forth, or we can hold it back, as we choose. Similarly 
with the emotion itself; we can at least try to drive it from 
the mind, or, on the other hand, we can nurse it. When we are 
the victim of a wrong we can justify the giving way to the 
spontaneous expression of our feelings by the consideration that 
our reaction will tend to keep the aggressor from repeating the 
offense. Hence the inhibitions which arise in a kindly and 
thoughtful man in the case of stupidity not arising, or at least 
not applying under these conditions, he may allow his anger 
to pass over into action, and may do so without subsequent 
qualms of conscience. 

Indeterminism Has No Place for Judgments upon 
Character 

The moral significance of a given volition, in itself considered, 
is thus entirely indejiendent of whether it is caused or not. So 
far Determinism and Indeterminism are on the same plane. But 
this is not the end of the matter. For the Indeterminist the 
volition has no cause and therefore can not have its source in 
character. The volition therefore permits no inference as to the 
nature of the cause, since all inference from one thing to ^mother. 



252 


ETHICS 


as from smoke to fire, supposes some sort of causal relationship 
between them. The acceptance of this conclusion, however, would 
carry with it the complete destruction of a large number of our 
most important moral judgments. We condemn a deliberate far 
more seriously than an impulsive act, because we regard the 
former as more completely an embodiment of character than 
the latter. We consider a second offense to be far more serious 
than the first, for the same reason. Again Indeterminism can 
never justify shame felt today for a wrong committed yesterday. 
Yesterday^s deed is dead, and nothing of it remains, as far as I. 
the agent, am concerned, except as it points to a trait in my 
character which still lives. Furthermore the layman's attitude 
towards omissions would have to be abandoned if Indeter- 
minism were true. A person forgets an important engagement, 
or is thoughtless in driving a car; that is to say he does not 
think of the danger to which he is exposing other people. Now, 
as we have seen, memory may be determined by purely me- 
chanical forces, such as frequency of repetition. But the most 
important single condition of a retentive and ready memory is 
attention. This in turn may for most practical purposes be 
regarded as a function of interest. When we omit to perform 
the duties demanded by the situation, probably half the time 
the cause is indifference on our part to the possible good or 
harm that may result. Now when we condemn such indifference, 
as we very properly do where the evidence is sufficiently con- 
clusive, we are condemning the absence of volition and are 
condemning this void, this nothing, not in itself but as evidence 
of a certain more or less permanent flaw in the character. I 
conclude, therefore, that while Indeterminism may find a place 
for judgments upon individual volitions, it utterly excludes all 
judgments upon character. 

A Difficulty CoNsroEREO 

An apparent difficulty remains to be considered. Determinists 
hold, as we have seen, that the place of a given character on 
the scale of excellence depends upon what it is, not how it came 
to be what it is. Apparently, however, men do not apply this 
principle in passing judgments upon persons whose childhood was 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 263 

warped or tainted by vicious surroundings. Thus a thief who was 
kidnapped in his youth by a band of pickpockets and trained 
to their occupation would be less severely blamed than one who, 
brought up in a good family, had deliberately betaken himself 
to a career of crime. But if everyone is to be judged on the basis 
of what he is, regardless of how he has reached this state, what 
justification, it may be asked, is there for discriminating between 
them? 

This question may be answered by asking another. When a 
runner who has been trained for four years by a skilful and 
experienced coach beats a competitor who has been trained on 
an entirely wrong system, how does it happen that the spectators 
may judge the latter to have been at bottom a better athlete? 
The solution in each case is the same. Just in so far as we are 
thoughtful we look not merely at the surface when passing judg- 
ments, but try to penetrate to the potentialities, whether for 
good or for evil, that lie beneath. The boy who succumbs to 
a life of thievery is not blameless. There are those who have 
risen above such adverse conditions. But in a den of thieves his 
better nature, if he had one, had little chance to develop, while 
all that was worst in him was strengthened by exercise. As far 
as his native qualities are concerned, therefore, he may stand on 
a distinctly higher plane than appears at first sight. And if we 
discover evidence for this fact, we place him where he really 
belongs. 

This principle explains also the allowance we make for the 
effects of disease and accidents, such as adenoids, epilepsy, a 
blow on the head, and much else of the same kind. These affect 
conduct in a number of different ways. Usually they do not 
operate directly through the character. Sometimes, however, they 
apparently do so by directly depressing altruism. If this be true, 
we ought to make the same allowances for such a person as we 
do for a runner who has entered a race before he has entirely 
recovered from an attack of pneumonia. 

Again, pathological rage or fear may sometimes be urged as 
an extenuating circumstance. But it is with these as with any 
other pressure on the will, for example torture infiicted to compel 
a man to reveal a secret. The stronger the temptation the less 



254 


ETHICS 


we blame him who succumbs. But in none of these cases should 
our disapprobation drop to zero, else it were inconsistent to 
praise him who conquers. In this conclusion I am so fortunate as 
to be in agreement with Dr. Maudsley, one of the most careful 
special students in this field.“ 

Fatalism and Determinism 

Determinism is frequently confused with Fatalism. This iden- 
tification is of sufficient importance to merit examination. 

Determinism is a general theory concerning the extent of the 
field of causation. It holds that every event in the mental and 
physical worlds, including volitions, has a cause. And Determin- 
ism, qua Determinism, makes no assertion of any kind as to the 
nature of the cause. It does not favor environment as against 
native endowment in the attempt to explain human conduct, or 
native endowment against the power of environment, or either as 
against any other conceivable agency. It does not even stand or 
fall with any particular definition of “cause.” It merely maintains 
the absolute universality of the causal nexus. 

Fatalism, on the other hand, as it is found, for example, in 
the old Greek myths, or in popular Mohammedanism, is pri- 
marily a particular theory about the nature and working of the 
ultimate cause in human affairs. It teaches the existence of an 
all-powerful supernatural being which, intervening at will in the 
orderly processes of nature, handles human beings as a chess 
player handles his men. Imagine, for instance, the knights and 
bishops endowed with some spontaneity and will of their own. 
If they should move or stand as the player desired there would 
be no interference on his part. But if not, he would pick them 
up and set them down, and if necessary hold them down, as 
he chose. They would have wills, they might even have “free 
wills”; but these wills would be impotent to produce results 
when they crossed the will of the master. A missionary was 
riding in a railroad compartment in company with some Hindu 
peasant women. She spoke of “our heart-breaking Indian mor- 
tality in babies and child mothers. There were sighs and nods 
from some, while others maintained stoutly that it was all a 

^ Retptmsibility and Mental Dieeate, p. 189. 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 265 

matter of fate and the will of the gods. There is no dodging 
one’s karma. If the child was fated to live you might throw it 
on the stones and it would be unharmed; but if it had come 
only for a season, to pay or collect some old debt, nothing could 
keep it, once the account was even.” 

Fatalism of this sort is clearly as remote from Determinism 
as it is from Indeterminism. But Fatalism sometimes takes a 
somewhat more subtle form. Here Fate is represented as gaining 
its ends by tampering with the human will, strengthening, or, 
if necessary, creating certain desires, weakening or perhaps 
annihilating others. Thus if it wishes to force an honest man into 
fraud it may bring him face to face with temptation, and in that 
moment benumb his attachment to all the principles which have 
hitherto sustained him. Is not this, it may be asked, the quin- 
tessence of Determinism? 

My answer is that while such a view of Fate would be com- 
patible with Determinism as it would not be with Indeterminism, 
yet again it would not be the same thing. All that Determinism 
asserts is that every volition has a cause. But, Fatalism claims, 
in addition, that this cause is, at times, a conscious or half- 
conscious omnipotent being who, in the pursuit of his own whims, 
or selfish ends, or whatever it may be, interferes with the regular 
ongoings of nature by thrusting into me whenever he chooses 
desires foreign to my original character, or paralyzing or de- 
stroying others which are integral parts of its constitution. 
Determinism, in other words, is genus of which this variety of 
Fatalism is species. And it i3 possible to hold by the former 
and utterly to repudiate the characteristic features of the latter. 

As a matter of fact all modern adherents of Determinism 
reject without equivocation the Fatalistic position. They believe 
that the individual volition is the product of the agent’s char- 
acter in its interaction with the circumstances that surround 
him at the time; that this character, in its turn, had its source 
in the native endowment which was his when his conscious life 
began, modified in greater or less degree by the influences pro- 
ceeding from his environment, which have developed some poten- 
tialities and weakened others. All our explanations of human 

“Mary G. B. Fuller, Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 136, September, 1926, p. 337. 



256 


ETHICS 


conduct are in terms of these two factors, differences of opinion 
reducing themselves to divergent estimates of the relative im- 
portance of each as compared with the other. The view that our 
volitions are dependent upon character, and that its growth and 
decay take place without exception in conformity with the regu- 
lar working of physical and mental laws, I shall call ^^Autonomic 
Determinism.’^ It is thus separated by a great gulf from every 
form of Fatalism, whether that which represents Fate as snatch- 
ing the cup from the hand held out to receive it, or that which 
maintains that individual volitions can be created by the spo- 
radic injection of foreign substances into the will, or the ex- 
traction of its native essences by an arbitrary power from 
without. 

While it may be admitted that as abstract theories the two 
views are very far removed from each other, it may nevertheless 
be objected that after all there is really no practical difference 
between them. In each case the inferior individual is doomed. I 
reply that there is an enormous difference between them, because 
on the view of Autonomic Determinism a man handicapped by 
a bad temper, laziness, lack of perseverance, excessive shrinking 
from pain, etc., can, if he really wants to, acquire a better 
character. This is because desires are really forces, and strong 
desires very powerful forces; and in every advance that desire 
makes towards its goal, it can take advantage of the uniform 
and unbroken workings of natural law, precisely as can the 
farmer in raising wheat. While if Fatalism were true, we could 
not tell at what moment a supernatural and sinister force might 
thrust itself into the situation, destroying at the turn of a hand 
the fruits of the labor of years. As it is, this possibility can be 
excluded. 

Autonomic Determinism is in this respect equally superior 
to Indeterminism. On the Fatalistic theory there can be no 
security for getting results because of the possibility of the 
irruption of an outside force totally beyond the control of the 
human will. On the Indeterminist view there can be no cultiva- 
tion of character for exactly the same reason that there could 
be no cultivation of the soil if there were no causal connection 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 257 

between fertility, rain, excellence of seed, etc., on one hand, and 
growth, on the other. A 'Tree” seed would either grow or not 
grow just as it chanced, leaving the farmer no foundation for 
calculation and thus for rational endeavor. Similarly, if the 
development of character is not subject to law, it can not be 
promoted by setting in motion any agencies of whatever kind, 
for an agency is a force which operates by producing or tending 
to produce determinate effects.* 

II 

Determinism and Moral Self-Culture 

This issue is of so much importance that it may be worth 
while to point out in the concrete some of the methods which 
we may employ in the endeavor to bring out the best that is in 
us. This will show, as against Indeterminism, that success de- 
pends at every turn upon the invariable working of psychological 
laws. Conceive then of a man possessed of an earnest desire to 
rid himself of some pernicious habit, such as drunkenness or bad 
temper. How is he to go about it? 

In the first place, during the intervals between temptations 
he should form as complete a picture as possible of the conse- 
quences of indulgence, and still more of the consequences of self- 
control. These will include the effects upon self as well as others; 
the effects in the way of what is commonly called happiness, 
and the effects on character; the indirect and diffused effects, 
as well as the direct. The greater the number of these considera- 
tions appearing before the mind, the greater the likelihood that 
conduct will be determined by those which represent the broadest 
and deepest, and thus the most worthy interests. 

Furthermore he should allow, or rather require his mind to 
dwell upon these consequences until they cease to be vague, 
abstract ideas, and turn into concrete, living realities. For 
example, he should form a detailed and vivid picture of how 
his brother feels when wincing under his outbursts of temper; 
of the isolation and loneliness which commonly falls to those 

* See Notes, XIII, ‘The Nature of Volition and Desire,” p- 607. 



258 


ETHICS 


who recklessly and habitually wound others in their attacks of 
anger; of the joy and consciousness of power that follow self- 
conquest after a hard fought battle. 

As he should train his mind to turn to and realize the attrac- 
tions of the good, so he should train it to ignore and make as 
unsubstantial as possible the attractions of evil. Keeping his 
thoughts from gambling may involve deliberately avoiding a 
street where a gambling hell is situated, or giving his attention 
to other absorbing interests when he feels the craving coming 
upon him. A physician ordered a young woman under his care 
to eat no candy. On his next visit he found an open box of 
chocolate creams on the table. When he expostulated his patient 
told him she had placed it there that she might smell it. She 
was not on the road to self-conquest. 

Then he may reinforce a weak but militant motive by calling 
in other motives to serve as allies. The students of a certain 
college were once startled by the announcement that one of their 
number, the most gifted of the student body, but notorious for 
his dissipated habits, had decided to study for the ministry. 
The explanation was this. The young man had intended to become 
a lawyer. But one morning as he lay on his bed after a debauch 
and saw ahead of him the road he was traveling, and remembered 
how unavailing had been all his previous resolutions to reform, 
he suddenly decided to take a stand which would make further 
drinking either impossible or scandalous. He thereupon formed 
the decision to enter the ministry, and to make it known at once, 
and won his fight. 

If a given temptation proves invariably too strong for the 
will, we might exercise our power of resistance on lesser faults, 
taking care to see that conquest in these cases is prompt and 
complete. It is possible to work up moral muscle as it is to 
develop the muscles of the body. We may grow from strength to 
strength by doing that which at any given time is diflScult and 
yet well within the limit of our powers. This fact is simply one 
application of the law of habit. 

The law of habit says: “That which is expressed lives and 
grows.” As the activity becomes more and more completely a 
part of ourselves it becomes at the same time more and more 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 259 

necessary to our life. In the end it may fuse so thoroughly with 
self that we can no more rid ourselves of it than we could run 
away from our body. The other side of the law of habit is the 
law of atrophy: That which is unexpressed decays and dies. 
This law makes it possible for us in the strain of conflict to 
look forward to peace after victory. For it means that we shall 
not be called upon to fight rebellious impulses forever, but fliat 
in the end they will lose their power to move us. For example, a 
man has a bad temper. If he habitually succeeds in controlling, 
not merely his vocal organs and his muscles of expression, but 
also the direction of his thoughts, so that instead of rolling the 
memory of the injury about in his mouth as a sweet morsel he 
speedily forgets it, the gusts of anger will slowly but inevitably 
grow less and less intense, until they can be controlled without 
serious effort, or else do not rise into consciousness at all. A 
famous traveler, while still a young clerk in a drug store, made up 
his mind to become an explorer. But he realized he possessed 
too much temperamental fear to be successful. Accordingly he 
used to walk the railroad trestles near his home at night. They 
were narrow, one-track structures, and when a train came along 
he had to lie down in a very narrow space between the track and 
the abyss and hold on with all his might. The fear succumbed 
to this treatment after a time and left him free to take up his 
chosen career in peace. What is true of the emotions of anger and 
fear is true of envy, censoriousness, suspicion, malice, hatred, 
and all the rest of this ugly brood. This same principle holds 
equally, of course, for the good. Perhaps the best known case of 
atrophy on record is that of the decay of Darwin^s love for 
music, painting, and poetry through neglect to gratify them 
adequately.^® 

The same law applies, broadly speaking, to pleasure and pain. 
Pleasures that are never pursued lose in the end their power to 
attract; just as it does not occur to us to think of the palaces of 
multimillionaires as ours, or to long to possess them. Many 
appetites and practically all interests, good and bad alike, are 
capable of fading away into mere shadows if they are continually 

”Li/e and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. I, p. 81; quoted below, Chap- 
ter XVIII, pages 379-380. 



260 


ETHICS 


allowed to remain unstimulated by indulgence. is surprising,” 
writes Professor James, “how soon a desire will die of inanition 
if it be never fed.” Even pain may be stripped of much of its 
precursory terrors and its worst emotional reverberations by the 
habit of unflinchingly holding oneself to a deliberately chosen 
course. Thus the process of self-conquest is a good deal like the 
course in the Danish Agricultural High Schools, where the tui- 
tion fee is largest in the first year and tapers off to a nominal 
sum in the last. “He who finds pleasure in vice, or pain in 
virtue, is a novice in both.” 

We thus see that every forward step in moral cultime is taken 
within the domain of law and is made possible by the unbroken 
reign of law. Many considerations of consequences as compared 
with a few; vivid pictures of consequences as compared with those 
which are pale and abstract; absorption in the good to the 
exclusion of the foul and evil; the introduction of new motive 
forces to serve as allies; the growth of both good and bad im- 
pulses through exercise and their decay through neglect — what 
do these things mean if the development of conduct is not de- 
termined just as indisputably as is the growth of an acorn? 

Determinism and the Moral Culture of Others: Moral 
Education 

What is true of self-culture holds for all attempts to raise the 
level of moral attainment in the world about us. The agencies 
employed with this end in view are selected on the assumption 
that except as resisted by counter-influences they can be relied 
upon to produce the desired results. Because of this dependence 
upon law some Indeterminists have denied the possibility of 
doing anything to improve the character of others. If they had 
applied this principle to self also, it would have been a per- 
fectly legitimate corollary of their theory — and at the same time 
its reductio ad absurdum. 

Attempts to promote the moral growth of others are doubtless 
as old as the human race, and they may be found today alike in 
the most primitive and in the most highly civilized societies. 
Many of the instrumentalities adapted to this purpose are fa- 

**Principle8 of Psychology, VoL I, p. 124. 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 261 

miliar to all of us, but there are some which may be worth a 
few moments' consideration. 

One of these is systematic moral education both in the home 
and in the school. Moral education of some sort there has been 
ever since offspring were born to beings that could be called 
human. But from the days of Confucius, Buddha, and Plato, 
individuals here and there have been trying through reflection 
to systematize its procedure, to adapt it more completely to the 
actual nature of those it was meant to affect, and to devise more 
effective methods than those which have come out of the care- 
less observation and casual thinking of the everyday world. For 
a generation, now, the subject has been attracting attention as 
never before. While, presumably, almost everything still remains 
to be done, a beginning has certainly been made. 

Moral education includes what are called moral instruction 
and moral training. The former should seek primarily to develop 
what Arnold of Rugby called moral thoughtfulness; that is, 
the power and the habit of discovering the moral issues involved 
in conduct; in particular of seeing what difference it makes 
whether one does right or wrong. This involves the tracing of the 
effects of the right and wrong courses of action respectively, the 
effects upon self and upon others, the effects upon happiness and 
character. In connection with this it involves the training of the 
power to determine what conduct is right and what wrong. 
Moral training seeks to develop the ideals thus clarified, strength- 
ened, and rendered comprehensive and consistent, by giving them 
the opportunities to express themselves in action. As applied 
to the school this may mean the introduction of pupil govern- 
ment and the '^socialized recitation,” the organization of "outside 
activities” through cooperation with the teacher, and the pro- 
vision of opportunities for the pupils to work for the school 
and the community. Many educational authorities advocate 
either instruction or training to the exclusion of the other, while 
still more believe the old ways are good enough. But everyone of 
these methods, even in their present imperfect forms, has pro- 
duced marked results; and when a niimber of them are combined 
they set at defiance, I believe, the laws of arithmetic, and show 
that in the world of mind one and one are often far more than 



262 


ETHICS 


two. In the hands of a genius such as Fdnelon, Thomas Arnold, 
or William George, moral education has exhibited possibilities 
which are a suflScient answer to all skepticism. Some day per- 
haps we shall have caught the spirit, as well as learned the 
methods of these masters. Then moral education will become a 
power in the world. 

The Elements of Character with Which Moral Education 

Must Work 

It is not the province of ethics to suggest, much less to work 
out the methods by which the moral potentialities latent in 
human nature can be transformed into active, life-giving forces. 
But our science may properly be asked to specify the elements 
of character with which moral education must work. We must 
distinguish between rightness of volition in the proper sense of 
the term and mere outer conformity to the demands of right. 
The former consists in devotion to the moral ideal, in doing an 
act that is right for the same reason that we judge it to be 
right; the latter is represented by the cashier w’ho is restrained 
from running off with the funds of the bank only by the fear 
of the penitentiary. The valid ideal, as we have seen, is the 
greatest attainable good of these affected by our conduct. Loy- 
alty to such an ideal for its own sake, accordingly, has its source 
in altruism, as far as the interests of others than self are 
involved. 

Altruism can apparently be developed most effectively by 
strengthening its normal stimulants. Of these the two most 
powerful, as we have seen, are imagination and love. The imagi- 
nation, presumably, like every other power of the mind, grows by 
exercise. The best form of exercise is actual contact with life at 
first hand. We enter most completely into the minds of others 
through service. We are apt to be interested most strongly in 
those we benefit. It was with this fact in view that when Benja- 
min Franklin wanted the favor of an influential politician, he 
borrowed a valuable book from him. Moral education, there- 
fore, must open to youth abundant opportunities for service. 
Another method of awakening the capacity for interest in others 
is the development of the power and habit of concreting the 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 263 

abstract. This means translating the bare words of the spoken or 
printed page into the flesh and blood for which they stand. 
Literature, history, and above all biography supply priceless 
materials for this purpose. 

The imagination may be appealed to by the plight of some 
specific individual or individuals. But its noblest function con- 
sists in painting for the mind the picture of a society of human 
beings in which courage, patience, loyalty, integrity, charity 
of judgment, and kindness are the reigning principles, and in 
which every good man takes and holds his appointed post at 
whatever odds against the enemies that threaten its existence. 
In the great “Funeral Oration^^ Pericles said: “I would have you 
day by day fix your eyes upon the greatness of Athens until 
you have become filled with the love of her. And when you are 
impressed with the spectacle of her glory reflect that this empire 
has been acquired by men who knew their duty and had the 
courage to do it.” To lead youth to fix its eyes upon a common- 
wealth of righteousness until filled with the love of it, this is 
the high privilege of the teacher or parent who has himself caught 
a glimpse of the beatific vision. 

The second great stimulant of altruism is love. But there is 
no reason why we should attempt to develop in anyone a feeling 
of affection for all his fellow-men. In fact, we could not do it if 
we would. But we can do much to strengthen two forces closely 
allied to it, namely, admiration and gratitude. 

We have studied the influence of admiration upon moral ideals 
in Chapter III. Often it leads conscience astray; still more often 
it reveals values to which we might else have been blind. In any 
event it is a fact with which we must reckon that men arc more 
easily moved to sacrifice themselves for others whom they ad- 
mire than for those in whom they can discover no particular 
excellence. The highest tyj)e of man, to be sure, does not wait 
till moved by such considerations. We are not told that John 
Howard, for instance, was under any delusion as to the intelli- 
gence or character of the prisoners to whom he devoted his life. 
But then the majority of men do not belong to the highest type. 
And even a Howard might well feel more enthusiasm in working 
for a prisoffer whom he believed to be really sound at the core 



264 


ETHICS 


than one in whom he could find not a single redeeming trait. Ac- 
cordingly we must develop in the young a realizing sense of the 
actual good there is in the average human being, much of which 
we fail to see because the bad attracts our attention while the 
good is taken for granted and escapes notice. In the second place 
we must bring them to a knowledge of the potentialities for 
good locked up and hidden in the minds of the most common- 
place men and women, and even of the moral outcasts of the 
race. More than this, we must show that much of what is best 
and finest in human nature often fails of fruition only because 
the man has been the victim of coldness, contempt, harsh treat- 
ment, or injustice. For examples of such tragedies there is no 
need to go to the works of George Eliot. All about us are Silas 
Marners, as hard, as bitter as he was before the storm and the 
winter^s cold laid the little child at his door. 

Closely akin to the influence of admiration upon altruism is 
that of gratitude. 

‘The evil that men do lives after them, 

The good is oft interred with their bones.” 

While the good we receive from others is often buried in forget- 
fulness the day after the benefit, an injury may rankle in our 
memory for years. Thus it comes about that a single wrong at 
the hand of a friend or acquaintance may blind us to a hundred 
past services. Moral education can and should train us to see 
life steadily and see it whole, in this as in all other aspects. 

Certain of the greatest services of w^hich we are the benefi- 
ciaries we habitually ignore, indeed are often ignorant of. I 
mean those services, not infrequently purchased by the extreme 
of sacrifice, which have created some part of our material 
civilization and the greater proportion of the social institutions 
and cultural values under which we live. Public spirit and 
national and race patriotism will be awakened by showing what 
has been done in the past, what is being done today, always 
by honest and faithful labor, often with no thought and some- 
times with no possibility of requital, to create the best elements 
in the life of America and the life of the world. 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 265 

A “scab” is an object of undying hatred to the members of the 
labor unions in so far as he keeps his job and draws his wages 
regularly during a strike, and thus loses nothing if it fails, 
while he gains with the rest if it succeeds. If his sole reason 
for refusing to join his fellow-workmen in the struggle for a 
better standard of life is the desire to be at ease while others 
starve and shiver, and then to enjoy the advantages secured 
by their agonies, we all feel that he deserves every malediction 
of which he was ever the target. Every selfish man is at bottom 
nothing better than a scab. He takes advantage of the tools, 
the organization, the morale which make civilization, and con- 
tributes nothing in return. When our eyes are opened to see these 
facts we recognize immorality as a form of sponging, as para- 
sitism, and all morality becomes a debt of honor, a matter of 
pride, of self-respect. 

If we are to serve others at the cost of personal sacrifice, we 
must believe that our actions are of some real value to them; 
we must believe, in other words, in the possibility of success in 
service. In many cases the outcome of the proposed action in 
behalf of another is certain. In many others it is a matter for 
guessing, and which way we guess will depend largely upon our 
entire attitude towards life. Hence the importance of a melioristic 
creed. This means the belief that the race has to a large extent 
its fate in its own hands, and that life can be made better worth 
while than it otherwise would be, or can be rendered more 
bitter than death by human actions. A well-grounded concep- 
tion of human progress, some notions of the causes which have 
produced it in the past and may be trusted to produce it in the 
future, are thus a very important equipment for the moral life. 
Without such ideas there may be conscientiousness, but there is 
likely to be little enthusiasm. And, as Sir John Seeley wrote in 
Ecce Homo, “no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic.” 

The primary appeal of moral education should be directed to 
altruism. But within limits egoism represents a legitimate 
interest also. In the first place, we have a duty to self as well 
as to others. And we habitually neglect our obligations to our 
larger self, the self of the next year and the next decade, whose 



266 


ETHICS 


claims are too often obscured by the clamorous appeals of the 
next moment. Not less egoism, but in a sense more, is what 
the world needs. 

Then there is one form of egoism of which we can not have 
too much, the aspiration for the possession of perfection of 
character. We need to be led to realize more completely the 
direct attractiveness of the good character and the good life, 
those characteristics in virtue of which it arouses immediate 
admiration. For what we admire in others we tend to desire to 
possess for ourselves. “As to other points,” wrote John Milton, 
“what God may have determined for me I know not; but this 
I know, that if ever He instilled an intense love of moral beauty 
in the breast of any man He has instilled it into me. The god- 
dess in the fable pursued not her daughter with a greater keen- 
ness of inquiry than I day and night my ideal of perfection.” 

It is not everyone that bridges the gap between the worlds 
of self and others in this fashion. For many good men the ideal 
of personal perfection is not the master motive. The stuff which 
forms their moral ideal is the thought of the good of others 
rather than any advantage of whatever kind for self. To such, 
and indeed to all others, an enormous liberation of moral force 
may result from the discovery that entirely apart from the in- 
trinsic value of character to its possessor there is no such conflict 
between the interests of self and others as a superfleial observa- 
tion seems to show. I shall discuss this subject at some length in 
Chapter XXII. Here I will only say that in my opinion nature 
has not bungled so egregiously in fixing the relations between 
individuals as the pessimists imagine. If this conclusion can be 
maintained, will it have any tendency to convert the thorough- 
going egoist into a lover of his kind? By no means. All your 
words of wisdom will never charm the leopard into changing his 
spots. But what will happen is this. Those in whom altruism is a 
genuine force will be protected against some of the most insistent 
impulsions of egoism on discovering that its hostility to altruism 
is based fundamentally upon a delusion. Thus they may have 
the strength to keep the faith while otherwise they might fall. 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 


267 


Determinism and the Moral Culture op Others: Farther 
Instrumentalities 

According to some writers, man is a kind of putty which can 
be moulded into any desired form. This doctrine, as the readers of 
Chapter XII will realize, docs not appear to me to be proved. 
By the side of nurture I believe we must recognize nature or 
native endowment, itself largely, though not entirely, a matter 
of heredity, as a fundamental factor in determining the course 
of human life. While the matter is still under controversy, the 
relation between these two factors seems to be adequately 
formulated in the following words of Carlyle. His statement, 
to be sure, refers to intellectual qualities, but it applies equally to 
moral ones. 

‘It is maintained by Helvetius and his set that an infant of genius 
is quite the same as any other infant, only that certain surprisingly 
favorable influences accompany him through life, and especially through 
childhood and expand him, while others lie close folded and continue 
dunces. . . . With which opinion, cries Teufelsdrdckh, I should as 
soon agree as with this other, that an acorn might, by favorable or 
unfavorable influences of soil and climate, be nursed into a cabbage or 
a cabbage seed into an oak. Nevertheless, continues he, I too acknowl- 
edge the all-but-omnipotence of early culture and nurture; hereby we 
have either a doddered dwarf bush or a high-towering, wide-shadowing 
tree; either a sick yellow cabbage, or an edible, luxuriant green one.” “ 

If this is a fair presentation of the facts, society must face 
the necessity of improving, and improving radically, the native 
endowment of the race. This is perhaps the most important sub- 
ject before the civilized w'orld today; the master key, as far as 
there is one, to the solution of all other social problems. It is 
being studied by the young and vigorous science of eugenics. 

In battle, victory may be gained either by strengthening the 
attack or weakening the defense. The great enemy to morality 
is selfishness. We can do much to lessen its strength in two 
ways; first, by a demonstration that much of the supposed con- 
flict between the demands of egoism and altruism is not real but 
imaginary. To this subject I have already referred and I shall 
return to it in another place. A still more effective course, if it 

^Sartor Reaartus, Book 11 , Ch. 11 . 



268 


ETHICS 


be practicable, would be to organize social life in such fashion 
as to reduce or destroy both the apparent and the actual dis- 
parities between the warring interests. 

This suggestion points to a tremendous program of social 
reconstruction concerning which I can only drop a hint. Plato 
in his Republic required community of property and what is 
called community of wives of the governing class. This he did 
because he believed two of the most serious evils of Greek life 
were the craze for money, and family selfishness joined with 
family pride; and men, he thought, ought not to be subjected 
to temptations far too great for most of them to bear. Modern 
society, I am convinced, will not choose to follow the great 
Greek philosopher in these particular applications of this prin- 
ciple. But the principle itself is of eternal validity. “Lead us 
not into temptation’* has been the prayer of Christendom for 
two thousand years. We must answer our own prayer, and 
remould, if necessary, the entire fabric of our social life, till 
there is established some sort of equilibrium between the moral 
strength of the average man and the temptations he is compelled 
to meet. 

Conclusion 

This survey of the instruments of moral progress, incomplete 
and imperfect as it is, wdll serve, I believe, to bring home once 
more the truth of the contention from which we started. The 
evocation through moral education of latent possibilities for good, 
the improvement of the native moral endowment of the genera- 
tions that are to come, the reduction of the strain upon egoism, — 
these promise a future far more attractive than the present sorry 
scheme of things. Our modern material civilization is due to the 
employment of sources of power previously unused, such as coal. 
But for the more beautiful moral order that is to arise, there are 
also waiting powers only partially utilized in the past, the rich 
potentialities for good which lie within the soul of man. A race 
which has discovered through terrible toil how to use material 
forces will learn in time to utilize moral forces also. But its 
success will depend absolutely upon one condition, namely, the 
ability to count upon the unbroken reien of law in the moral as 
in the physical world. 



RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM 269 

What has Indeterminism to set against this? No Indetcrminist 
has any rational ground for believing that he himself, his child, 
or society as a whole will grow better with the passing years, 
or even succeed in maintaining present standards of achievement. 
In his haste to assert that all men can become better, including 
those who have no wish to, he has left an equal chance that all 
may become worse, including, again, those who have no wish to. 
Furthermore, neither in his relation to himself, his child, or his 
race can he either contribute to moral progress or help to avert 
moral ruin. Where there are no causes there are no agencies. 
Thus the Indeterminist closes the door to hope, except the 
gambler’s hope that chance may play the game for him. Let him 
not talk about “influences” which are not causes. An influence 
is nothing other than a cause. Expose a thousand people to any 
influence good or bad. As it becomes stronger and stronger, at 
least up to the point where counter- forces enter, the conduct 
of ever larger numbers conforms to it. To deny that it is a de- 
termining factor in this conduct is to use words without meaning. 
And where there is determination there are causation and the 
orderly processes of law. In a famous essay, “The Dilemma of 
Determinism,” Professor James presented Indeterminism as a 
gospel of deliverance. To me it seems a message of despair. 



Chapter XIV 


THE STANDARD OF RIGHT IN ITS RELATION TO 
PRACTICE 

From the point of view of practice, the most important problems 
of ethics are: Is there an objective standard of conduct? and, 
if so, what is it? Directly or indirectly all the preceding Chapters 
have contributed their part to the solution at which we have 
arrived. If the preceding analyses have been correct, all moral 
judgments have their source in our desires for the good or 
harm, respectively, of conscious beings; the application of the 
adjective right to conduct meaning that it exhibits the attitude 
we wish human beings as such to take towards each other’s wel- 
fare. The valid standard is that which appears when we work 
out the implications of this impersonal point of view and apply 
them consistently in our judgments upon volitions. It reads, as 
will be remembered, as follows: ‘That action is right which 
aims to bring into existence the greatest amount of good for all 
concerned attainable under the conditions.” (Chapter VIII, page 
140.) 

This formula may perhaps appear somewhat abstract and 
vague. We may accordingly find it advantageous, in view of its 
great theoretical and practical importance, to examine it with 
more care than we have hitherto given it, for the purpose of 
determining its precise significance and discovering what value 
it may possess as a guide in the complexities of actual life. This 
end can be accomplished most effectively by watching it in action, 
that is to say, by setting it to work. I shall select as our material 
the problems raised in Chapters II and III. They are not to be 
studied primarily for their own sake, since this book aims to deal 
solely with principles. But it is hoped that this excursion into 
the field of affairs will create a concrete idea of the meaning and 
value of our standard by exhibiting it engaged in the task of 
dealing with certain representative problems of practice. 

We shall start from that center of our interests, self, and 

270 



STANDARD OF RIGHT IN RELATION TO PRACTICE 271 

inquire how far each of us is bound to sacrifice his personal good 
for the benefit of others. 

The Place op Selp in the Moral Ideal: Negative and 
Positive Morality 

The answer which our standard gives to the question, “How 
far am I bound to sacrifice my personal good for that of an- 
other?” has been formulated by Professor Sidgwick in the follow- 
ing words: “Each one is morally bound to regard the good of 
any other individual as much as his own, except in so far as he 
judges it to be less when impartially viewed, or less certainly 
knowable or attainable by him.” ^ The validity of this require- 
ment is widely recognized in its application to the injury of 
others. That in general we may not steal or use violence in 
pursuing our own interests we know well enough, whatever we 
may elect to do. The refusal to profit by injuring others is called 
“negative morality.” Current standards of negative morality, 
w’hile still susceptible of much improvement, are, on the whole, 
fairly satisfactory. But when it comes to the claims of positive 
morality, that is to say, the duty of actual service, the commonly 
accepted standards are certainly more lax. “You must tell the 
truth and stand by your engagements; but apart from these 
obligations, you are not bound to make serious sacrifices (out- 
side the family) for the benefit of others except as they are in 
dire need or great danger” — this is probably a fair transcript of 
the moral ideals of the average man in the community about us. 

Now our formula for right knows nothing of this distinction. 
According to it, right consists in attempting to bring into ex- 
istence the greatest amount of good attainable under the cir- 
cumstances, and it makes no difference in principle whether 
this is done by action or forbearance. We ought therefore to 
wish to know precisely what this means in practice. 

The Place op Selp in the Moral Ideal: Applications to 

Practice 

Does, then, this principle of equality of obligation as between 
self and another mean that we ought to give all our goods to 

‘ The Methods of Ethics, 7th Edition, Book III, Ch. XUI, sec. 3, p. 382. 



272 


ETHICS 


feed and clothe the poor? The assumption at the basis of our 
present-day economic society — what we call the competitive 
system — is that the average man will be likely to shirk, more 
or less completely, his share of the world^s work, except as he is 
driven to labor by the spur of necessity. This statement can be 
maintained only with large and important exceptions. There are 
fortunate men in almost every department of economic life who 
love their vocation and would not abandon it if they could. Re- 
gard for the interests of those whom one is serving plays a 
genuine role, not merely among professional men, but also among 
other workers in the great field. Nevertheless, the broad truth 
of the current assumption can not be gainsaid. If this be a fact 
then the indiscriminate giving away of goods on the part of 
any considerable number of persons would involve society in 
dire disaster, for it would undermine the foundations upon which 
its economic life is built. Financial aid in times of exceptional 
need, especially where the situation is not due to the fault of 
the individual, will always be a right which the unfortunate 
may claim from their more happily situated brothers. But indis- 
criminate charity, as our social workers arc now telling us, de- 
stroys or tends to destroy habits of independence, industry, and 
thrift, qualities without which modern civilized society could not 
maintain its existence for a day. 

Nor does the moral ideal require that all of us should devote 
ourselves to what are called philanthropic pursuits. If all the 
farmers should rush into settlement work what would become 
of the dwellers in towns and cities who must eat of the products 
of other people’s farms or starve to death? What, too, would 
become of the people unfortunate enough to live within the radius 
of the activity of the settlements? 

The fact of the matter is that happiness can not be passed 
around like cake. And while we have it in our power to inflict 
all sorts of suffering, mental or physical, upon others, from the 
irritation of teasing to blinding or crippling for life, definite 
limits are set to the amount of good which we can do for most 
other people. This is true quite apart from the consideration just 
urged. For the larger part (not all, as some moralists are teach- 
ing) of our pleasures in life is due to successful activity of one 



STANDARD OF RIGHT IN RELATION TO PRACTICE 273 

sort or another. The center or source of this activity must always 
be within. We can help others by supplying some of the external 
conditions necessary for success, and by removing or helping to 
remove barriers too formidable for their unaided powers. We 
can train, inform, and strengthen the inner impulse to a certain 
extent, by measures hygienic and, in the broadest sense of the 
term, educational. But after all, the limits set by an inexorable 
nature are somewhat narrow. The positive happiness of each 
of us is a matter which has been entrusted primarily to our own 
hands. 

These things, then, our formula does not mean. What it does 
mean, is, first, that, in the words of the French philosopher 
Comte: ^'Every person who lives by any useful work should be 
habituated to regard himself not as an individual working for 
his own private benefit, but as a public functionary working for 
the benefit of society.” If a man is compelled to work for a 
living, he is bound to seek success solely by giving better service 
than his competitors. If he has inherited wealth, he must not 
loaf his life away; he must find some definite mode of activity, 
wdiether it be business, the pursuit of a profession, political life, 
research, or W’hat not, to which he seriously devotes himself as 
a servant of society. Every man and every woman should place 
his or her abilities freely at the disposal of the community in 
so far as more imperative obligations do not forbid it. 

The money which a man gains through the exercise of his 
vocation he may ordinarily take with the same good conscience 
that he expects to find in others under the same circumstances. 
All of his gains alike, whether the amount be great or small, 
should be regarded as a trust fund to be used for the benefit of 
the world. How this trusteeship should be exercised depends 
upon a large number of conditions, of which the amount of the 
income is the first. The question therefore can not be discussed 
in general terms and this is not the place to consider it in detail. 
What it involves in the abstract, however, is at least in part not 
difficult to state. It means, among other things, a mind more 
open to claims in certain specific directions than is that of the 
average member of society today; claims, namely, of employees 
in the way of both wages and mode of treatment; claims of re- 



274 


ETHICS 


ligious, educational, and charitable institutions, and of all good 
causes that require personal devotion or money if they are to 
succeed; finally certain claims that usually appeal only to 
egoism, but may appeal equally to the broadest altruism; the 
claims, namely of sound business enterprises for capital with 
which to supply the needs of the community for consumption 
goods and of the workers for the means of livelihood. 

Ties of Family 

The principles by which we have justified a certain preference 
for the good of self in the matter of positive service, justify an 
equal partiality in favor of the members of our family. In the 
first place the family is an economic unit. The wife and mother 
ordinarily does as much work and often carries as great respon- 
sibilities as he into whose hands the family income happens 
to be paid. Indeed, except among the wealthy, she usually does 
more actual work. For 

''Man^s work is from sun to sun 
Woman’s work is never done.” 

As for the children, if they have not yet reached maturity and 
obtained a suitable education, no parasitism is involved in 
supporting them. 

In the second place, the obligation of special service within 
the family follows from the nature of the situation which arises 
when a number of people who are bound to each other by ties 
of blood and affection live together under one roof. They know 
each other’s real needs better than the needs of those who live 
removed from them, and hence can help each other with the 
maximum of economy of effort. The affection of each for the 
other will serve to prevent imposition. On the contrary, as 
Sidgwick points out: 

“The kindnesses which are its outcome and expression commonly 
win a requital of affection; and in so far as this is the case they 
have less tendency to weaken the springs of activity in the person 
benefited, and may even strengthen them by exciting other sources 
of energy than the egoistic — ^personal affection, gratitude, the desire 
to deserve love, and the desire to imitate beneficence.”* 

Hence the maxim, ‘‘Thou shalt love the fellow-members of 

^Methods of EthieSf 7th Edition, Book H", Ch. Ill, sec. 3, p. 433. 



STANDARD OF RIGHT IN RELATION TO PRACTICE 275 

thy family as thyself,” can be carried through with few of the 
limitations with which the broader rule, “Thou shalt love thy 
neighbor as thyself,” is confronted when it is applied to the 
positive service of the community as a whole. In other words, 
the principles of the primacy of the greater good and the 
primac}’' of the good of the nearer are ordinarily not in conflict. 
On the other hand, the duties of the family must always be ex- 
ercised in subordination to the requirements of the ultimate 
standard. Hence, in certain cases, as in that of the man at tlie 
switch, the duty to serve the larger whole rather than the family 
is plain. 


The Claims of Gratitude 

Among those to whom we feel bound by special tics because of 
their relationship to ourselves must be counted our benefactors. 
But if “each one is morally bound to regard tlic good of any 
other individual as much as his own,” and the good of no other 
individual more than his own, so that the claims of all indi- 
viduals upon him are in principle equal, is there any room left 
to follow the promptings of gratitude, which bid us single out 
our benefactors and make them the recipients of special favors? 
In a society with primitive moral ideas it may be regarded as 
obligatory to cheat or even rob a person indifferent to our- 
selves, in order that we may the more effectively serve those who 
have served us. Such ideas all morally mature persons would of 
course repudiate. But now suppose we have taken the next step 
in our moral development and recognize that the principles which 
apply to negative morality apply to positive morality also; in 
other words, that we ought to love all our neighbors as ourselves 
and none more than self. Can we find within the seemingly 
narrow limits set by this rule, any place for the expression of our 
gratitude in deeds of beneficence? 

I reply that, in the first place, the primary function of gratitude 
is not to create new duties. It is rather so to stimulate the 
altruistic spirit that we shall be more willing to recognize and 
perform duties which we ought to perform anyway, quite apart 
from the impulse to requite a favor. Gratitude, in other words, 
makes us willing and glad to do for some one person on some 



276 


ETHICS 


one occasion what we ought to be doing for many. Furthermore, 
it enables us to serve our neighbor without converting him into a 
parasite, either upon ourselves or society at large. For parasites 
do not commonly perform services for others which call for 
gratitude. Again, since between equals there ought to be more 
or less of a give and take, gratitude unites with self-respect in 
demanding that we return sacrifice for sacrifice. Finally, it impels 
us to make one return for exceptional services which every man 
craves, and to which, under ordinary circumstances, he is en- 
titled; this is appreciation. Not infrequently all that is required 
is verbal expression. On the other hand, it is sometimes our duty 
to make the return in the form of that which has economic or 
some similar value, simply because what costs us something in 
the way of money, time, or effort, is a more impressive evidence 
of appreciation than any number of bare words. If a day laborer 
saved your child from drowning at the risk of his own life, he 
would not think you felt very keenly the nature of his sacrifice 
or the extent of the service, if you showed your appreciation in 
no other way than by sending him a Christmas card. 

These consideration, severally or in combination, justify us in 
giving preference to one to whom we are bound by ties of grati- 
tude, when, among a number of persons all of whom are equally 
in need of help, it is for any reason possible to serve but one. 
One of Lincoln’s biographers writes: 

‘‘Lincoln never lacked a friend and never forgot one. A man in 
Now Salem who had trusted him for board was himself homeless in 
his old ago. Lincoln, with his gratitude still warm after many years, 
went to a distant part of the state where his one-time benefactor was 
an inmate of the poorhouse, took him from the place and found a 
good homo for him.”* 

Lincoln crowded his life to the utmost with good deeds of all 
kinds. But it is obvious that he could not spend his time finding 
cpmfortable homes for all the inmates of poorhouses in Illinois, 
and at the same time earn his living by practising law. There 
had to be some kind of selection. And his choice of an object 
for his benefaction in this instance can be justified by the most 
exacting standards. 

* James Morgan, Abraham Lincoln, The Boy and the Man, p. 48. 



STANDARD OF RIGHT IN RELATION TO PRACTICE 277 


Thb Claims of Pbbsonal Excellencb 

The layman, as we remember, tends to regard a man of higher 
character as having a superior claim to good treatment as com- 
pared with a man of mediocre moral qualities. His position is, 
'The good of those who are worthy of admiration ought to be 
preferred to the good of those who are less worthy’^ (Chapter 
III, page 45). It is true he is apt to apply this principle in 
very inconsistent fashion, using it in one place and ignoring it in 
another where the situations are essentially identical. But con- 
sistently or inconsistently he uses it more or less frequently. 
Furthermore, he does not confine his demands for a differentia- 
tion in favor of the admired to the objects of moral admiration. 
Take the history of the race as a whole and you find everywhere 
the belief that preferential treatment is due to the admirable in 
physical strength and skill or in intellectual power, as well as in 
moral excellence. It is on this basis that men have justified the 
special privileges of an aristocracy of birth, supposed to be a 
group of the best, and that the resultant inequalities have been 
accepted by the "lower classes” as essentially just. The special 
privileges of this aristocracy began to be destroyed in Europe, 
roughly speaking, with the French Revolution, and the process 
may perhaps be said virtually to have come to an end with the 
close of the World War. In the English-speaking part of the 
Western continent they never existed in any large way. They 
have ceased, therefore, to be a practical problem. But what has 
disappeared forever is primarily the conception that the actual 
aristocracies were composed of the best. There still remains much 
of the old sentiment that the best, if you can only identify 
them, are entitled to special rights and privileges. 

The most eloquent and influential as well as the most thor- 
oughgoing exponent of the aristocratic ideal is Friedrich Nietzsche. 
With him it is a creed to be consistently and ruthlessly applied 
to the reconstruction of human life. In his view society may 
be divided into two layers, the slave class or the herd, and the 
master class. The members of the latter are distinguished from 
the former, primarily by the possession of strength; in particular. 



278 


ETHICS 


strength of intellect and strength of will. They are the born 
rulers of mankind. As against them the members of the herd 
have no rights which their superiors are bound to respect. Hence 
in the struggle to gain power and to maintain it, indeed at every 
point where the two castes come into contact, the masters will 
use deceit and violence with as little scruple as the hunter 
feels in using them against the wild beasts of the forest. 
Nietzsche’s conception of human excellence is preposterously 
narrow, his general system is an incoherent mass of vague and 
contradictory statements, as becomes one who attempts to be a 
philosopher, when his endowment is primarily that of a lyric 
poet. But his significance for the history of contemporary thought 
is that he is the only writer who has ever tried to work out, in 
even a tentative way, the principle that personal excellence as 
such confers superior rights. 

The claims of excellence to special rights and exemptions were 
considered in Chapter VIII, and I do not intend to go over the 
ground a second time. I will confine myself to the assertion that 
what is true of the defenders of retributive punishment holds 
for Nietzsche. The minute you attempt to get his ideas down 
from the clouds to the earth and think through patiently the 
problems which arise in reducing them to practice, 3"ou will dis- 
cover not merely that they ought not to be applied to human 
affairs, but that they cannot be so applied with anything remotely 
approaching consistency. 

I can not refrain from adding another word. There are moralists 
who loathe Nietzsche’s teachings, who nevertheless insist that 
all recognition of the existence of obligations as between man 
and man rests upon a belief in the worth of human nature. These 
people are Nietzschians in spirit however loudly they may de- 
claim against their master. It does indeed make a difference in 
practice whether you assert that all men have worth and there- 
fore should be treated in some other way than you would treat 
wild beasts, or whether on the other hand, you maintain that 
only a very few have worth and therefore should be treated 
better than wild beasts. But this is merely a difference between 
statisticians. At the foundation of each assertion lies the same 
fundamental assumption. If there is any truth in the conclusions 



STANDARD OF RIGHT IN RELATION TO PRACTICE 279 

reached in this book the right of our neighbor to our service 
and our forbearance has its source in his needs. This fact would 
be self-evident to all of us if we were properly endowed with 
the power to put ourselves in his place; in other words, if we 
ourselves were not very imperfect beings. 

The Problems of Punishment 

We turn from a consideration of the alleged privileges of ex- 
cellence to the penalties of moral imperfection, more specifically, 
to the problem of punishment. In Chapter VIII we saw that re- 
venge can have no place in a life guided by the moral ideal. 
This conclusion does not mean that after the fashion of Tolstoy 
and the Society of Friends we renounce the institution of punish- 
ment. On the contrary, our fundamental principle, I believe, 
requires self-defense against unwarranted aggression as a duty 
on the part of the individual and of society alike. And the insti- 
tution of punishment is today, whatever it may have been origi- 
nally, the state’s organ for defending its members against 
violence, theft, and other serious forms of injury. Punishment, 
then, may be justified as the less of two evils, on the following 
grounds. In the first place, it acts or tends to act as a deterrent 
of wrong doing; that is to say, it tends to prevent the criminal 
from repeating his crime, and other members of society from 
committing the same or other offenses. It does not do this in- 
variably, to be sure, any more than medicines invariably cure. 
If it were always effective we should of course have no criminals. 
But without it we should certainly have more. And this fact 
would be in itself a suflBcient justification if no others were forth- 
coming. Punishment does serve, however, or at any rate can be 
made to serve another useful function. Properly administered, 
it tends to work the reformation of the evil doer. Punishment 
as such, not merely detention in a prison, but any form of 
punishment, has a direct tendency to awaken the wrong-doer 
to a sense of the seriousness of his deed. To wrong our neighbor 
would be impossible if we realized to the full the sufferings we 
were bringing upon him. We do wrong because we go through 
the world half asleep; we walk in a kind of mental haze. Punish- 
ment has a tendency to wake us up. The boy whose watermelon 



280 


ETHICS 


was stolen repented of the thefts which he had committed in 
the same garden. He had never before realized just how loss by 
theft felt.* Similarly punishment may serve as a revelation to 
us as to how our victim’s sufferings felt to him. It may bring 
home to our consciousness the indignation of others, not merely 
of the victim but also of the impartial judge, and thus awaken 
the echo of these emotions in ourselves. It also shows us beyond 
the possibility of a doubt that in this instance at least the forces 
that make for righteousness are more powerful than we; hence 
if we are of the number of those who sincerely respect nothing 
in the world except power, we may find ourselves respecting the 
moral law as a seat of power. This may tend to produce a pro- 
found change in the attitude of the sinner towards his sin and 
make a different man of him. It is probable, furthermore, that 
the orderly and efficient administration of justice has, for pre- 
cisely these same reasons, a tendency to increase the amount 
of veneration felt for the moral law in the whole body of citi- 
zens, both good and bad alike. 

There are other minor ends which may be legitimately served 
by punishment; but these two are by all odds the most valuable. 
The first (deterrence) is of special importance in the punishment 
of the criminal by the state; the second (reformation) is the 
fundamental consideration which should guide practically all of 
our punishment of children in the home and the school. The 
state must deter, whether it succeeds in reforming or not. Our 
modern courts are in many instances unquestionably making 
great strides in the direction of humanizing the administration 
of criminal justice, in consequence of which thousands of evil 
doers are being restored to society, new men in attitude and 
spirit. But there are those whom no agency can save. The only 
thing to do with such people is to lock them up permanently 
where they will do no harm. For, w^hether we are successful in 
reforming our criminals or not, murder and theft must be stopped. 
Some day we shall learn — perhaps we are learning — ^that in this 
field as in others an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of 
cure. But presumably we shall never be able to dispense entirely 

*See above, Chapter VI, p. 98. 



STANDARD OF RIGHT IN RELATION TO PRACTICE 281 

with the pound of cxu*e; and for the present, at any rate, our 
clumsy instruments of deterrence will be found to be an indis- 
pensable agency for protecting the peace of society. The wrongs 
done by a child, on the other hand, derive their seriousness ordi- 
narily from the nature of the character which they exhibit and 
from their reactions upon this character. Hence the supreme im- 
portance of reform in these cases as compared with mere de- 
terrence. The essential condition of producing a change in char- 
acter is that the culprit recognizes the wrongfulness of his deed 
and the rightfulness of his suffering. When this happens amend- 
ment is probable.® Otherwise punishment merely hardens the 
evil doer and makes him more wary. 

Our total rejection of revenge, then, does not carry with it 
the total rejection of punishment. It does, however, involve the 
denial of the following assertions which have often been repeated 
in the past and are not unheard today. First, the wrong-doer 
is wholly or in part outside the pale of the ordinary moral code; 
we may break faith with him, seize his property, take his life or 
injure him in any other way in which we feel disposed, without 
any moral hesitation whatever. This idea, in its essential fea- 
tures, may be found in many young children, who when they 
actively dislike their teacher, consider themselves entirely justi- 
fied in disobeying her orders, lying to her, and stealing her posses- 
sions. Second, we may inflict suffering upon the bad, or those 
whom for any other reason we dislike, just for the sake of making 
them suffer, where no good to themselves or others can be ex- 
pected to result. Third, the amount of punishment for wrong 
doing should be determined by the intensity and persistence of 
our malevolent feelings, instead of by consideration of what 
is the least amount of suffering that must be inflicted in order 
to attain the ends of deterrence and reformation. Fourth, there 
can be no forgiveness until there has been punishment. This 
principle is especially mischievous when applied without dis- 
crimination to the erring child. 

*For some striking illustrations see William George, The Junior /Ec- 
public, p. 42 ff.; Reeder, How Ttoo Hundred Children Live and Learn, pp. 
106-169. 



282 


ETHICS 


The Sacbifice of the One fob the Many 

Those who accept the deterrent conception of punishment 
ought to understand clearly to what they are committed. They 
are affirming that loss or suffering may rightly be inflicted upon 
an individual against his will when it is the indispensable means 
to the attainment of a greater good. Some applications of this 
principle are very offensive to many people, partly, at least, be- 
cause they can realize the state of mind, for example, the suffer- 
ings of one person more vividly than they can the privations 
or sufferings of a number. This attitude, however, as we saw 
in Chapter III, page 43, is very difficult to maintain consistently. 
I shall now try to show that it is not so much difficult as 
impossible. 

Those who believe, as I find myself compelled to believe, that 
a physician ought not to give poison to a cancer patient begging 
for relief from his agony, can only justify their position, in the 
last resort, on the ground that it is right for the few to be allowed 
to suffer that many may be saved from premature death through 
precipitancy, carelessness, or downright murder. Those who be- 
lieve that the state ought to enforce a contract, thereby hold 
that it is right to compel a man to fulfil a burdensome obligation 
for the benefit of another person and in the interest of social 
security. Those who acquiesce in any form of protective legisla- 
tion for the economically weaker classes can justify their attitude 
only on the assumption that the few may be compelled to suffer 
injury that the lot of the many may be improved. When, for 
example, a number of years ago, a law was enacted in the State of 
Illinois limiting the working hours of women to ten per day, a 
woman who had been serving as cashier in a restaurant wrote 
a vigorous protest to one of the newspapers. She was a widow 
and was educating a daughter. She had been able to accomplish 
her purpose with fair success as long as she held her position. 
But immediately upon the passage of the law she was replaced 
by a man, who could work as many hours as he saw fit, and 
was compelled to accept another kind of emplo 3 nnent which 
carried with it a much lower salary. That the interests of hun- 
dreds like her were affected detrimentally by this piece of legis- 



STANDARD OF RIGHT IN RELATION TO PRACTICE 283 

lation there can be no doubt. But it has remained on the statute 
books none the less because the resultant good is generally be- 
lieved to preponderate over the evil. The truth is that there is 
probably no such thing as a statute which does not aflfect ad- 
versely the interests of someone. But if this fact is to constitute 
a bar to legislation, government is at an end. 

What many people dislike is in reality not so much the doc- 
trine of the thoroughgcring primacy of the greater good, in itself 
considered, as certain abuses to which a shallow and perhaps 
heartless application may lead. This is a real danger. A striking 
illustration is afforded by the famous Dreyfus case which, a 
quarter of a century ago, shook the very foundations of the 
French Republic. In the last decade of the nineteenth century 
the French army had fallen under the domination of a reac- 
tionary and unprincipled clique. One day it was discovered that 
French military secrets were being sold to Germany. Thereupon 
those in control, without any warrant whatever, directed sus- 
picion upon a perfectly innocent Jewish oflScer named Dreyfus. 
In the ensuing trial before a military tribunal, every safeguard 
erected by civilization for the protection of the innocent was 
shamelessly disregarded. In consequence the unfortunate accused 
was found guilty and sentenced to penal servitude for life. A 
few years later as the result of the indefatigable labors of sev- 
eral devoted men, the fact was demonstrated that the decision of 
the court had been based upon forged documents. Thereupon a 
second trial before a military court was ordered, which com- 
placently accepted a lot of new forged evidence against Dreyfus, 
and, for a second time, found him guilty, “with extenuating cir- 
cumstances,^^ — a weak and absurd compromise. Thereupon the 
President of the Republic promptly pardoned him. But he was 
still branded before his country and the world as a traitor. 
Accordingly his champions refused to acquiesce in the decision, 
and after years of renewed labor and agitation obtained his 
complete vindication from the supreme court of France. Every 
move in the rehabilitation of Dreyfus was fought or condemned 
both within and outside of the army, not merely by those whose 
reputations were immediately involved, but by thousands of 
others, many of them undoubted patriots, who feared that should 



284 


ETHICS 


the possibility of such a rank miscarriage of justice become a 
demonstrated fact, the entire French army would be discredited 
beyond the possibility of recovery, and the power of France 
to defend herself against her enemies be seriously weakened. 
What actually happened? The destruction of a plague-spot in 
the French army, with the consequent restoration of confidence 
in the military courts and the military authorities. Without this 
renovation which began only eight years before the opening of 
the World War, it is questionable whether the French could 
have retained the morale which enabled them to stand firm at 
Verdun and the Aisne and finally brought them victory. Clearly 
in every such situation the most important consideration is the 
fact that a single rotten apple is likely, sooner or later, to infect 
the entire contents of the barrel, and that its removal is more 
important than any other consideration. 

The world may learn some day — for the rest of us are not one 
whi^ wiser in this matter than the French — ^that forgery, intimi- 
dation, and the concealment of the machinations of wicked men 
are not and can not be instruments of social welfare. Meanwhile 
in the face of danger of the abuse of a sound standard I can 
only insist that there are no fool-proof principles in ethics and 
that it is only the complete truth that makes you free. It is a 
contradiction in terms to assert that the intelligent use of the 
utilitarian standard will lead to more harm than good. In passing 
upon right and wrong, as in every other situation in life, there 
exists a moral obligation to be intelligent. This means, among 
other things, to think not merely of immediate advantage and 
limited interests, but, as far as may be, to comprehend and 
realize the whole. This involves concern for the one as well as 
for the many. In so far as this obligation is met the danger of 
abuse disappears. 

The Relation op Reflective and Unrbflective Ideals of 

Conduct 

It is possible that Colonel Picquart and his associates never 
thought of the preceding considerations when they began their 
long and arduous campaign for the liberation and reinstatement 
of the unfortunate young officer. What moved them may have 



STANDARD OF RIGHT IN RELATION TO PRACTICE 285 

been only sympathy for a mistreated fellow being, whom they 
felt they ought to save. Nevertheless the fruits of their efforts 
were the cleansing of a foul pest hole which might, in the end, 
have poisoned the entire life of France. Similarly when the son 
of a murdered man in some savage tribe, driven by an imperative 
sense of duty, kills in retaliation the murderer, he is doing his 
part, though he may not know it, to deter others from com- 
mitting a similar crime. In the same way, the popular belief that 
the more excellent deserve better treatment than the less excellent 
provides everyone with a powerful motive for self-improvement, 
to the great profit of the community. Finally, that spontaneous 
special regard for one’s family which is the source of the con- 
viction that the near as such have the superior claim, makes 
on the whole, as we have just seen, for the health and happiness 
of society. 

These facts throw an interesting light upon the way in which 
nature has built the human mind. For uncounted thousands of 
years the race has ^instinctively” (that is to say, unreflectingly) 
sympathized with the individual against the community, pun- 
ished enemies, rewarded excellence, and cherished above all others 
those who were nearest, in obedience to ideals whose relation to 
the good of the whole has seldom or never entered the mind. In 
the course of time theory comes limping along to survey the 
situation. It finds the human mind so far adjusted to the condi- 
tions of existence that the results of the actions brought forth 
by these ideals are on the whole quite satisfactory. Quite satis- 
factory, but not entirely so. The lay conscience, just in so far 
as it is unreflective, is undiscriminating, and tends to accept as 
universal or well-nigh universal, modes of conduct which a care- 
ful scrutiny could justify only within certain limits. The function 
of ethics in the life of the race is (among other things) precisely 
this: To reveal the fundamental values embodied in the moral 
life, and in so doing to mark off the boundaries within which 
alone secondary principles of action are valid. 



Chapter XV 


SOME FARTHER APPLICATIONS OF THE STANDARD 
TO PRACTICE 

The Duty op Obedience to General Rules 

Op the problems raised in Chapters II and III one more re- 
mains for consideration. This is the duty of obedience to general 
rules. We have seen that two very different Uttitjudes are repre- 
sented in public opinion ; one demanding a strict observance, the 
other permitting a larger or smaller number of exceptions.^ 
Which attitude towards general rules is the correct one? Are 
any exceptions to be permitted? If so, under what circumstances? 

No useful answer can be given to these questions until w’e 
have made a more nearly complete survey of the indirect effects 
of actions than has yet been attempted. In Chapter II, page 27, 
and following, a list was given of those indirect effects of a lie 
which have been found to be most familiar to University of 
Wisconsin students in Letters and Science and in the Short 
Course in Agriculture.* We there pointed out that these effects 
follow upon any form of wrong-doing involving a breach of 
integrity, as theft, the breaking of a promise or a contract, or 
even murder. So that the principles derived from the study of 
unveracity apply over this entire field. We chose lying for our 
illustration merely because its consequences seemed to be the 
most easy to trace. 

The Indirect Eppects op a Lie 

The effects enumerated in Chapter II are undoubtedly not 
only the most widely recognized but also the most important. 
In bare enumeration, they were the following: The multiplica- 
tion of lies through example, through the effects of habit, and 

‘See abeve. Chapter II, passim, 

*6ee the author’s Influence of CuMtom on the Moral Judgment, p. 127. 

386 



SOME FARTHER APPLICATIONS 287 

through the difficulty of drawing the line, with the consequent 
tendency to become more and more lax in judgment and conse- 
quent practice; loss of confidence in the liar and in other human 
beings, including the liar’s own loss of confidence in his fellow 
men. Some of these effects turn on the fact of detection; others 
take place whether the lie is detected or not, because they repre- 
sent reactions upon the character of the liar, and upon his ability 
to make moral distinctions. 

There are, however, certain other effects which are of suffi- 
cient importance to be worthy of our attention. The first is the 
awakening of the retaliatory desire to pay back the liar in his 
own coin. This may extend to other members of his class, and 
in the end, to any member of the human race. This unlovely 
trait of human nature is perhaps most frequently exemplified 
among us in the field of petty swindling, as short-changing. But 
what happens when people find themselves cheated out of their 
money often happens when they are cheated out of the truth. 
The opposite, of course, is also the case. ‘‘Nobleness enkindles 
nobleness,” in more ways than one. And he who tells the truth 
under great temptation to lie usually awakens a certain gratitude 
in the beneficiary which may flow out not merely to the bene- 
factor but also to others who have no other relationship with 
him than participation in the common nature of man. 

Again, in the business world at least and sometimes elsewhere, 
the detected lie is likely to be met by a counter lie as a weapon 
of self-defense. A’s salesman lies about the goods of a competing 
firm; B’s salesmen are thereupon apt to meet lie with lie, in 
the attempt to win back the ground that has been lost. 

The above consequences flow from the detection of the lie. 
But a lie has another series of consequences which follow whether 
it is detected or not. The first is, in many instances, the loss of 
the confidence of others. This statement no doubt sounds para- 
doxical; for how, it will be asked, can a man lose confidence 
when others know nothing of the lie and do not even suspect 
the liar? The answer is that there are two ways to lose any- 
thing. The first is to have it in one’s possession and to allow 
it to pass out of one’s possession. The other is to lose the chance 
to gain possession. A young lawyer might be paid his fee in cash 



ETHICS 


288 

and lose it through the professional activity of a pickpocket. 
Or he might lose an equal sum by being away from his oflBce 
for a day^s hunting; the would-be client who finds the door 
locked going across the hall to the oflSce of a rival. The same 
is true of confidence. Have we not all seen someone tell the truth 
under great temptation to lie? When he has told the truth to 
his own hurt we have said to ourselves: “There is a man who 
can be depended upon in any circumstances; we can believe 
him even where the appearances are all against him.” Of this 
accession of confidence everyone robs himself who tells the easy 
lie in order to get out of a tight place, or in order to gain any 
other end at the expense of the truth. 

We have spoken of the effects of a lie in starting a habit of 
lying. But there exists in addition a network of other effects 
upon character. What these are will depend somewhat upon the 
nature and motive of the lie. Take as an example a lie told 
to escape the disagreeable consequences which would follow 
upon the discovery of some action of ours. In this case the liar’s 
unwillingness to face the disagreeable, in other words, his 
cowardice, tends to infect the entire character. Furthermore the 
habit of veracity and integrity of character, as a whole, are 
connected in still another way. 

“Truth telling can surely be based only on right living. If we are 
sympathetic, generous, courageous, just, it will be possible to be open 
and true. In so far as we are bitter, avaricious, cowardly, self- 
deceitful, we shall find it hard to be wholly sincere with others. We 
cannot isolate truthfulness. To demand truth of ourselves is therefore 
to demand uprightness; thus truth becomes the guardian of our 
character.” * 

Again, the habitual liar repeatedly fails to tell the truth 
even when he has nothing to gain by lying; that is to say, he 
becomes inaccurate in his statements. “He who is always anxious 
to tell the truth is always anxious to have the truth to tell”; 
and the reverse holds also. But since in their communication 
with us, people desire not merely good intentions, but the truth 
itself, we lose their confidence through our inaccuracies, just as 
certainly, though perhaps not to the same extent, as through 
deliberate falsehoods. 

*£lla Lyman Cabot, Everyday Ethics, p. 295. 



SOME FARTHER APPLICATIONS 289 

The lie, whether detected or not, diminishes the amount of 
confidence existing in the world in another way. It makes it 
diflScult, if not impossible, for the liar to believe in the truthful- 
ness of others. ^‘You cannot believe in honor,” writes Bernard 
Shaw, “until you have achieved it. Better keep yourself clean 
and bright; you are the window through which you must see 
the world.” A childlike confidence in the complete goodness of 
every human being is not a desirable equipment for the conduct 
of life. But the cynical belief that everyone is a liar or a thief 
is likely to have equally mischievous consequences. 

“Be noble, and the nobleness that lies 
In other men, sleeping, but never dead 
Will rise in majesty to meet, thine own.” 

Men like Thomas Arnold of Rugby have shown that these are 
the words of sober truth; and while so great an influence as his 
is not given to many persons, however elevated in character, it 
is true that excessive suspicion creates no inconsiderable propor- 
tion of the treachery and deceit which it fears. The prophet helps 
to bring his own prophecies to pass. 

We may summarize the results of our survey of the indirect 
effects of lying as follows: Every lie tends to produce more lies, 
or at any rate more untruths; it tends to undermine the con- 
fidence of man in man ; and many forms of lying tend to weaken 
the character as a whole. 

Confidence between man and man is the greatest of all social 
values. This is particularly true in modern society where every- 
one becomes daily more dependent upon everyone else, and 
where any important enterprise can be carried on only with the 
cooperation of a number, often a great number of persons. Men 
who cannot trust each other prove to be a mere rope of sand 
when they attempt to work together for a common end. Thus 
the difference between a community in which such trust exists 
in a large measure and one in which it is entirely absent is the 
difference between civilization and anarchy. In fact, the chief 
hindrance to our entrance upon a form of social existence far 
higher than any we have ever known is the untrustworthiness 
which by constantly creating suspicion is constantly dividing 
man from man. 



290 


ETHIC5S 


Is A Lie Ever Permissible? 

We are now prepared to consider the question whether one 
may ever lie. The first point to notice is that the question should 
always be put in the form, not, “May I lie?” but, “Must I lie?” 
For even a lie that, in the end, we may have to pronounce justi- 
fiable has many of the same effects as the worst lie. A man over- 
works to save himself from bankruptcy and thus keep his family 
from starvation. His action may be justifiable under the circum- 
stances, and his motives are undoubtedly the best; but the effects 
of the breakdown in health will be just as serious for all that. 
Much the same thing is true of lying. You will normally have to 
pay for your lie, whatever your motives in telling it may be. 
Commonly, others must pay for it also, in one way or another; 
whether in lessened confidence, in being subjected to more lies, 
and of course, in failure to adjust themselves properly to the 
situation before them because they had been led by false state- 
ments to mistake some of its features. A man of very mediocre 
ability was superintendent of schools in a small town where, 
owing to certain exceptional circumstances, he fitted so well that 
he was receiving perhaps one-third more salary than he could 
have earned anywhere else. He might have remained there in- 
definitely if he had not in an evil day applied for a position in a 
larger town carrying a higher salary. The clerk of the school 
board informed him that the reason for his rejection was that 
he was not a university graduate, — finding it easier to tell a lie 
that could not give offense than to tell an unpleasant truth. As 
a result of this lie he resigned his position and entered a uni- 
versity. Unprovided with adequate means of support, and with a 
family dependent upon him, he remained for the two years neces- 
sary to obtain the bachelor’s degree, and then, finding no position 
equal to his old one, he remained one year longer as a graduate 
student. After the whole family had endured serious hardships 
which left permanent traces upon the health of the wife, the man 
finally found himself forced to accept a position paying actually 
less than the one which he had abandoned. 

Only that kind of a fool, then, who supposes himself able to 
beat the laws of human life and get something for nothing will 



SOME FARTHER APPLICATIONS 291 

lie with a light heart and an easy conscience. This does not mean 
that one must never lie. I myself, at least, cannot do otherwise 
than justify ‘‘the lie that withholds the story of a repented wrong 
from the scandal monger who would wreck the happiness of a 
home by peddling it abroad.”^ This is one of those unhappy 
cases involving a conflict of duties where harm is inevitable 
whichever way we turn. But what we are bound to do when we 
find ourselves in a situation of this kind is to count carefully 
the costs before we attempt to deceive any human being, and 
never to allow ourselves to fall into the sentimental notion that 
the costs for self or others will ever fall to, or even near the zero 
line. The burden of proof is thus always on him who claims that 
he is justified in lying; and he is practically always mistaken. 

“Truth speaking,” to quote Mrs. Cabot once more, “is not a 
recipe for making life easy, but for making it worth while; and 
anyone who had thoroughly tested the results of frank, accurate, 
reliable speech and action will never want to go back to the 
vitiated air of lying.” ® 

We have been studying the problem of loyalty to general rules 
by an examination of the concrete effects of obedience and dis- 
obedience to a single one. What holds of veracity will be found 
to hold for the other general rules of morality accepted in civilized 
society. 

The Bearing or the Preceding Conclusions Upon Theory 

The preceding analysis contains the reply to certain objections 
sometimes urged against the standard formulated at the close of 
the eighth chapter. A lie, an act of theft, a breach of contract, it 
may be asserted, is wrong even though it docs a great deal of 
good. Thus Saint Crispin stole leather from a rich merchant to 
make shoes for poor children; but his conduct, however well in- 
tentioned, must be condemned. A man contracts with an im- 
mensely wealthy corporation to take, at a stipulated time, a 
certain amount of goods which it manufactures. The market falls, 
and if he sticks to his agreement he will be ruined; while if he 

•William DeWitt Hyde, The College Man and the College Woman, 
p. 109. 

" Op. dt., p. 294. The recognition of this fact is the high point in Eugene 
ONeill’s Anna Christie. 



292 


ETHIC5S 


refuses to do so the manufacturing organization will scarcely feel 
the loss. Nevertheless he should keep his word. The answer to 
such objections should now be evident without farther discussion. 
In all such situations, there are two parties concerned: the im- 
mediate participants, and the community as a whole. The obliga- 
tion to a strict veracity, respect for one's given word, and for 
the property of others can only be understood when these latter 
interests, vital in the life of every one of us, are taken into 
account. 

Herewith is supplied the key to a second diflSculty. Our stand- 
ard is supposed by some persons to require the acceptance of 
that malodorous maxim, ^The end justifies the means." The 
end, let us say, is the relief from anxiety of the members of a 
family, one of whose number is sick unto death; or the saving 
from humiliation of an applicant for a position whose unfitness 
compels you to reject him; or the success at the polls of the 
grand old (Republican or Democratic) party. Applied to any 
one of these highly desirable ends the maxim, as commonly in- 
terpreted, directs you to lie if the lie is likely to result in attain- 
ment. In view of the study just completed, any lengthy discussion 
of this proposal is unnecessary. The lie, let us assume, will have 
one effect which is entirely good. But as we have just seen, it 
may be counted upon to have many others which are bad. The 
effects upon our characters are as unescapable as gravitation; 
and some of them are quite independent of our motives. Other 
effects are almost equally inevitable if we lie not merely in this 
situation but in future situations just like it. And those future 
situations, of course, may be expected to exert upon our will 
exactly the same pressure as this one — only more. 

The following incident may perhaps serve as the reductio ad 
ahswrdum of this maxim. A burglar, on entering a room in a 
Parisian apartment house, found there a woman weeping. He 
learned that her husband had just died after a long illness which 
had eaten up all their savings, and that the hard-hearted land- 
lord was intending to throw her and her effects out into the 
street the next morning. Thereupon the chivalrous and indignant 
burglar rushed to the apartment where the landlord lay sleeping 
and murdered him in his bed. If the murder of the landlord would 



SOME FARTHER APPLICATIONS 293 

give the widow a week's respite from eviction, those who believe 
that any end justifies any means would be logically bound to 
applaud. I venture to believe that they would hesitate before 
going so far. 

The flaw in the maxim lies in the fact that it directs attention 
to a single effect in which we happen to be interested, and ignores 
a great body of other effects which may be far more important. 
There is indeed one end which justifies all means — the most com- 
plete attainable welfare of all who are directly or indirectly con- 
cerned. But this, seen in its proper light, gives no authorization 
for playing fast and loose with general rules, as the maxim, at 
least in its common interpretation, seems to permit. 

The Doctrine of Natural Rights 

The contents of this and the preceding Chapter are intended 
to suggest the results of the application of the standard of Uni- 
versalistic Utilitarianism (Chapter II, page 36), as developed 
in Chapters VIII and IX, to the concrete problems of conduct. 
The meaning and significance of this standard will perhaps ap- 
pear more clearly if it is contrasted with what was for more than 
a century, and until quite recently, a very formidable rival in 
certain fields. This rival is known as the Doctrine of Natural 
Rights. An examination of this theory will also serve to bring 
before us a certain class of mistakes in moral judgments which 
we have not yet explicitly described. 

The Doctrine of Natural Rights states the demands of morality 
in terms of rights. In order to understand it, therefore, we must 
begin by defining a right. 

Moral rights are the offspring of duties and can be understood 
only when seen in their relation to the latter. A right is always 
the correlative of a duty. This is to say, the rights of A as against 
B are the duties of B against A. To possess a right thus means 
that I am the object of the duty of another person to act or to 
forbear from acting in a certain way. For example, if A contracts 
to paint my house, the painting of the house becomes his duty 
and my right. After the work has been done, the payment of the 
amount agreed upon becomes my duty and his right. If I have 
a moral right to the possession of a piece of property, then your 



294 


ETHICS 


duty is to forbear from trespassing, and otherwise to leave it 
alone except as I am willing to allow you to use or enjoy it. 
If I have a right to walk the streets, then it is your duty to 
forbear from preventing me from doing so. The individual can 
of course have a right, not merely as against other individuals, 
but as against the community taken as a whole. For example, 
the assertion on my part of the right to work in a factory ten 
hours per day would in practice mean the claim that the com- 
munity in its organized capacity as a state ought not to compel 
me to cut my working day to eight or nine hours against my 
will* 

The Doctrine of Natural Rights purports to state the funda- 
mental rights which belong to all men in virtue of their common 
nature as human beings. These rights are declared to be self- 
evident, which, if it means anything, can only mean discoverable 
without the need of a careful examination of consequences. They 
are also asserted to be inalienable or absolute, that is to say, 
such that a man can not be justly deprived of them on any 
grounds whatever. This theory grew up in the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries as a protest against the powers and privileges 
of the absolute monarchs of the age and the lesser systems of 
privileges which were the possession of the nobility. It had no 
official spokesman, and its adherents did not constitute, in the 
proper sense of the term, a school with its own creed and its own 
standards of orthodoxy. It represented rather a spirit of protest 
against age-long abuses which were due to the seizure of the good 
things of life by the powerful few, with no adequate recognition 
on their part of any correlative duties to the less fortunate 
classes; leaving the world^s burdens, including the heavy burdens 
which their own manner of life entailed, to be carried by the 
many. This situation certainly involved a deprivation of funda- 
mental rights, and it was these rights which the doctrine in 
question undertook to formulate. 

Since we are dealing not with a school but with a point of 
view common to a great number of otherwise widely divergent 
modes of thought, it is impossible to draw up a list of the funda- 

♦See Notes, XV, “Rights and Duties as Correlative,” p. 614. 



SOME FARTHER APPLICATIONS 295 

mental rights of man which would have been accepted by all 
the adherents of the doctrine. But the following list includes 
what were most frequently adduced as representing such rights. 
(1) Everyone has an inalienable right to life. (2) Everyone has 
an inalienable right to liberty, limited only by the equal right to 
liberty possessed by everyone else. This means, everyone ought 
to be allowed to do what he w’ills provided he does not thereby 
infringe upon the equal freedom of any other man. (3) Govern- 
ments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. 

(4) Everyone has an inalienable right to the fruits of his labor. 

(5) In addition, there usually appeared some demand with re- 
gard to equality. 

If the reader has accepted the position of the preceding Chap- 
ters he will not have to be told that neither rights nor duties can 
be discovered without considering consequences; and that no 
rights are inalienable in the sense that they represent what a 
person is entitled to have or to do or to require from others 
regardless of the best interests of society as a whole. From this 
fact, however, it by no means follows that the above formulas are 
worthless. On the contrary, they represent profound and fruitful 
truths exaggerated into absurd and dangerous errors by a failure 
to note the limitations wdthin which alone they arc valid. They 
were directed against the exploitation of men by their kings and 
nobles, and they meant to assert that equality of consideration 
which we have seen to be the very essence of the moral judgment 
(see above. Chapter VIII, page 140). They ended, however, by 
asserting the supremacy of the interests of the individual over 
those of the community, which belongs to the very essence of 
immorality. The truth of this estimate will appear if we analyze 
each of them in turn. 


The Right to Life 

“Everyone has an inalienable right to life.” Obedience to this 
rule would mean the abandonment of conscription as a means 
of national defense in time of war. I do not mean to discuss 
this question. American public opinion expressed itself un- 
equivocally on this subject in 1917, and I agree with its judgment. 



296 


ETHICS 


The Right to Liberty 

‘^Everyone ought to be allowed to do what he wills, provided 
he does not thereby infringe upon the equal freedom of any 
other man/^ This principle derives its chief significance for 
American life from the fact that for the past sixty years it has 
been widely used by certain of our courts as the measure of 
that liberty of which, according to our state and Federal constitu- 
tions, no one may be deprived without due process of law.® 
Unquestionably it is, broadly speaking, a good rule for adults 
of intelligence and character, especially in their dealings with 
their equals in economic and political power. But as it stands 
it would legitimate my attempt to steal from you provided you 
were not thereby prevented from attempting to steal from me 
or anyone else. And it would forbid the state making laws to 
prevent the exploitation of child labor or the imposition by 
employers of hours of labor or other working conditions injurious 
to the health and other vital interests of the worker. For ac- 
cording to this view the state has no right to forbid me to work 
twelve hours a day unless I thereby prevent someone else from 
working the same length of time. Whereas according to the best 
thought of today, as I believe, it is one of the most important 
functions of the state to set the lower limits of competition; 
that is, to protect the laborer from being forced by his economic 
weakness in comparison with the employer into a contract to 
w’ork under conditions seriously injurious to his welfare.*^ 

The Consent of the Governed 

Similarly with the maxim: Governments derive their just 
powers from the consent of the governed. It will follow from 
our position that governments derive their just powers, in the 
last resort, from their relationship to the good of the governed. 
The attempt to found the moral authority of the state upon 
consent doubtless arose from the conviction that a man is always 
the best judge of his own interests, so that his consent to a 

• See Political Science Quarterly, Vcl. 19, p. 589. 

'Cf. Sidney Webb, "The Necessary Basis of Society,’* Contemporary 
Review, Vol. 93, p. 6^. 



SOME FARTHER APPLICATIONS 297 

given form of government may be taken as a sign that it is the 
most effective instrument available for the attainment of his 
good. This conviction, however, is hardly more than half true. 
Hence the maxim is a very dangerous one when applied indis- 
criminately, as President Wilson apparently proposed to apply 
it at Versailles. 

The difference between these two views of the authority of 
government can be illustrated by the attitude of each towards 
Philippine independence. According to the Doctrine of Natural 
Rights, the Filipinos should be granted independence the moment 
they desire it. All questions as to their fitness for the task of 
self-government are entirely irrelevant. Even if it could be 
proved that the consequences of this grant would be the plunging 
of the country into anarchy, or the enthronement of unexampled 
inefficiency and corruption, this fact should not be allowed to 
influence the decision in the slightest degree. According to the 
rival view, on the other hand, if the United States has been ruling 
wisely and justly it should not abandon the Filipinos to them- 
selves until there exists a fair presumption of their capacity to 
conduct with success a stable government. This means, in the 
concrete, that we should give the Filipinos complete self-govern- 
ment only after elementary education has become widespread, 
after the people have gained adequate political experience 
through participation in the work of local self-government, after 
some unity of spirit has made itself felt (which will probably 
be developed mainly through the creation of railroad and steam- 
ship lines by American capital, and the introduction of the 
English language as the universal medium of communication), 
and after they have demonstrated the possession of the intel- 
lectual and moral qualities requisite for the operation and main- 
tenance of a government essentially as good as that which they 
propose to abandon. We try, in other words, to take into account 
all the interests concerned, and ask what form of government 
will affect them, on the whole most favorably ; not forgetting, by 
any means, the very important interest of development of capac- 
ity. The advocates of the former doctrine, on the other hand, ask 
only one question: *^Do the majority of the Filipinos want to 
govern themselves?” 



298 


ETHICS 


The Right to the Fruits of One’s Labor 

That everyone has a right to the fruits of his labor is true as 
against any and every irresponsible autocrat, such as an eight- 
eenth century French noble, who, in the plentitude of his power 
and for his own selfish interests, reaped where another had sown. 
In fact, it holds against every parasite, from king to tramp. But 
if we look at the problem from another angle we shall see that 
the matter may have a very different aspect. Suppose that when 
Robinson Crusoe’s ship was wrecked, two sailors, instead of one, 
had succeeded in reaching the immortal island, and that, in 
escaping, one had been so seriously injured as to be permanently 
crippled. He could, we will assume, do a certain amount of work; 
but with his best efforts the fruits of his labor would still be 
small. What, then, is the principle of division which Robinson 
Crusoe ought to apply? According to the maxim before us, Crusoe 
had no obligation whatever to serve his companion. Each was 
entitled to the results of the labor of his body and the work of 
his hands; and a fair division would have been one made on this 
basis. If, therefore, they contributed to their common stock of 
goods in the ratio of ten to one, these goods ought to have been 
divided on a ten to one basis. If in consequence the crippled 
sailor died of starvation that was a matter that did not concern 
Crusoe in the least. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall. 

Now as we have seen abundantly such a conception of the 
boundaries of obligation is thoroughly false. We have indeed the 
right of self-defense as against the parasites that would suck up 
like a sponge all that we have to give and would then ask for 
more. But assuming equal readiness on the part of all others to 
do their best, my duty is to do my best also for those who are 
within the range of my actions. And I ought to be willing to 
accept as my share of the products of our common labor so much 
and only so much as it is socially desirable that I should possess. 
This principle is expressed in the famous words of Louis Blanc: 
*The state ought to be regarded as one family, in which all shall 
work according to their ability and receive according to their 
needs.” 

The right to retain the fruits of one’s labor for one’s own 



SOME FARTHER APPLICATIONS 299 

personal enjoyment is supposed to form the basis of our present 
economic system. If this right is not absolute, is the correlative 
economic system utterly without moral justification? By no 
means. The consciousness of the duty to serve one’s fellows, 
which is very much alive in many primitive societies, has to a 
great extent faded out in the larger communities which are 
characteristic of the higher civilizations. In order to get the 
world’s work done it is therefore necessary to offer special in- 
ducements. The most effective way to obtain results would be 
to pay the worker in proportion to his industry, because industry, 
being a matter of the will, can be influenced by the lure of 
reward. But the fruits of one’s labor are determined by four 
factors: industry (and kindred virtues, such as perseverance), 
intellectual ability, physical vigor, and luck; and unfortunately 
it is impossible to separate their effects. Accordingly, in order to 
stimulate the first, we have to permit men to reap the profits 
which are due to the other three also. Payment for service, then, 
by allowing each w^orker to appropriate the fruits of his own 
labor, is merely a device — and a somewhat clumsy and wasteful 
device — for bringing into existence an adequate supply of eco- 
nomic goods. 

Our industrial system, like all the other institutions of society, 
must be judged by its results. And these results are to be meas- 
ured by the amount of goods it yields, the manner in which they 
get distributed in society, and the kind of human beings which it 
tends to produce. An adequate discussion of its excellences and 
defects is impossible in this place. All I can undertake to say 
here is that w'hile, as far as I can see, the competitive principle 
is at present an indispensable agency of production, there is noth- 
ing sacred about it. By this I mean that no one has an absolute 
title to the fruits of his labor as against some other more satis- 
factory system of production and distribution, if it can be 
devised. Conditions might conceivably arise under which our 
whole system of economic rewards could be abandoned. For if 
there existed a higher order of devotion to the public welfare, 
if all men were willing to be loyal to the dictum of Comte that 
we ought to regard the exercise of our vocations as a public duty, 
some closer approach to equality of income could replace the 



300 


ETHICS 


present sorry scheme of things, with its empty and demoralizing 
luxury at one end of the scale and life on the edge of the abyss 
at the other. Accordingly, moves in this direction which are 
genuinely useful (i.e., which do not threaten to cut down seri- 
ously the amount of production and which will actually lead to 
the removal of unnecessary inequalities) ought not to be sup- 
pressed in the supposed interests of justice.® 

This statement, of course, does not mean that the state, in 
the interests of a more equable distribution of wealth, may help 
itself to private property without in some way compensating the 
owners. There can be no such thing as civilized society without 
confidence. The state now recognizes and professes to protect 
private possessions obtained in accordance with certain rules 
which represent what it regards as fair dealing. It may therefore 
take away that which has been acquired in reliance upon this 
implied promise of protection on its part, only upon due com- 
pensation. The statement of the text means that the state is at 
liberty to give notice of a change in the rules of acquisition if 
at any time this step seems clearly desirable. 

Equality 

The demand for equality may take a great variety of direc- 
tions: equality before the law; equality of political power; 
equality of wealth; equality of opportunity to gain wealth or 
other ends of human endeavor; equality of taxation; in short, 
equal distribution of anything that is regarded either as valuable, 
or as a necessary evil. 

Morality, as we have seen, involves an equal regard for equal 
interests. If justice be defined as equality, then the whole of 
the moral code may be regarded as nothing but one form or an- 
other of justice. This shows why the demand for equality (or 
justice) is so deeply embedded in human nature. 

But the demand for equal regard for equal interests is con- 
stantly passing over into the demand for the equal treatment 
of unequal interests. This means the demand for the same treat- 

*I have dealt with this subject at greater length in an article in the 
Intemational Journal of Ethics for July, 1920. For a general discussion of 
the relation of merit and reward the reader may consult Rashdall, The 
Theory of Good and Evil, Vol. I, pp. 243-262. 



SOME FARTHER APPLICATIONS 301 

ment of different persons, regardless of its effects upon the sum 
total of the interests involved. A favorite form is the claim 
that a man shall not be allowed to enjoy a certain good unless 
it is possible for everyone else to share it with him. An illustra- 
tion of this attitude is the following. In a “Note to the Reader,” 
prefixed to one of the later editions of a once famous book, 
Astrotheology, first published in 1715, the author, Mr. Derham, 
wrote : 

‘‘Notwithstanding that a book is more complete and valuable' by 
additions and amendments yet I think that many and great addi- 
tions are a hardship and injustice to the purchasers of a forme'r 
edition; and therefore I have in this and the foregoing editions 
avoided it as much and as well as I could, although some of my 
learned friends would have persuaded me to it, and also contributed 
their observations.” 

The aim here of course is to avoid inequalities of service as 
between the readers of the first and later editions. 

Another example of the same attitude comes from “business- 
like” America, and from the twentieth century instead of the 
eighteenth. In a certain Wisconsin city, a few years ago, a public- 
spirited citizen offered to build and equip a fine gymnasium for 
the school in his ward at his own expense. The sapient board 
of education refused the offer on the ground that it would be 
“unfair” (unequal) for the pupils of that school to have a privi- 
lege which the pupils of the other schools did not enjoy. 

Similarly some Socialists have demanded equality in the dis- 
tribution of wealth regardless of its effect upon production ; that 
is to say, upon the amount to be distributed. Babocuf, one of 
the early leaders of the movement, said: “Let all the arts [i.e., 
of civilization] perish if need be, provided we retain real equal- 
ity” [of income]. 

The standard adopted in Chapter VIII will show us what ought 
to be our attitude towards the problems thus raised. Equal in- 
terests ought to be treated equally. It follows that unequal inter- 
ests ought to be treated unequally. Where the attempt to treat 
persons equally, as, for example, in the distribution of political 
power or wealth, will result in a diminution in the amount of 
human well-being as a whole, the greater set of interests is 
being saerificed to the less; in other words, unequal interests arc 



302 


ETHICS 


being treated as if they were equal. Thus in dealing with the 
problem of distribution of political power it is one-sided and 
unfair to take into account merely the desires of a given class 
or group for the consciousness of power, and to ignore the effects 
which the granting of such power is likely to produce upon other 
interests. Precisely the same thing is true with regard to the 
distribution of wealth. If an equal distribution would result, 
through a diminution of the amount to be distributed, in bringing 
everyone down to the level of the lowest tenth, no one would be 
better off, and nine-tenths of the population would have a smaller 
income. All interests which these larger incomes satisfy would be 
sacrificed, in the last resort, either to a mere name, or to a form 
of malevolence, namely, envy. A man was informed by a physician 
that one of his sons was going blind and nothing could be done 
to prevent it. Thereupon he tore up the will by which his prop- 
erty had been divided equally between his sons (his wife being 
dead), and left everything to this one child. This man knew 
the difference between genuine and counterfeit equality. 

A 

Applying a Rule Beyond Its Raison d'Etrb 

This discussion of an ancient, famous, and enormously influ- 
ential doctrine is not intended to be anything other than cursory, 
because it is not presented for its own sake. It has been intro- 
duced partly for the purpose of clarifying the position of its 
rival, the utilitarian standard, partly as an example of a class 
of mistakes not specifically dealt with in Chapter VIII. These 
mistakes are sufficiently serious to deserve our careful attention. 

No two of the principles which we have just been examining 
owe their origin to precisely the same mental processes, but all 
have one fault in common. Each is a formula which represents 
the valid standard of right with fair accuracy within certain 
limits, but does not apply beyond those limits. The Doctrine of 
Natural Rights fails to note the existence of those boundaries 
and treats what is in fact a secondary principle as if it were an 
ultimate one. The essential nature of the error involved, which 
is known as applying a rule beyond its raison d*etre, comes out 
very clearly in the following question and answer. 



SOME FARTHER APPLICATIONS 303 

A century or more a shipload of emigrants was wrecked upon 
an uninhabited island in the Pacific far from all trade routes. There 
they and their descendants lived for many years, unvisited by other 
men, until finally a ship appeared and carried them away to Europe. 
At that time there was in their prison a man under sentence to be 
hanged for murder. Is the community, before breaking up, its members 
to scatter to different parts of the world, bound to hang the murderer 
or are they at liberty to set him free? It being imderstood that while 
the murder w^as in every respect unjustifiable, it was committed under 
circumstances which give no grounds for the fear that the murderer, 
if freed, would ever commit another similar crime. 

‘‘Hanging is justifiable for at least two reasons: [1] It removes the 
possibility of further crime being committed by that person; [2] It 
sets an example to others. The second reason seems to operate in the 
given case, and we should conclude that hanging w’ould be justifiable 
for that reason.” 

A moment’s consideration will show that the second reason 
does not operate in the given case. If an inhabitant of the island 
should make his home in England, for example, the freeing of 
this murderer would not lead him to expect that he would 
have the same good fortune if he should commit a murder on 
British soil. For he would know that this act of grace w’as due 
to a circumstance which could never be repeated in his new 
environment, namely, the departure of all his fellow-citizens to 
other parts of the world and the consequent disappearance of 
the society of which they had been members. The principle of 
deterrence may be sound enough, but like every derived i)rinciple 
it is applicable only under certain conditions. The one rule of 
action which is true unconditionally is that wduch bids us aim 
in all our actions to realize the greatest attainable amount of 
good. The failure explicitly to recognize this fact is the funda- 
mental flaw in the Doctrine of Natural Rights. The same kind 
of mistake is being made every day in the week, alike by the 
uneducated and educated. 



Chaptbb XVI 

TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 

Before turning to the problem of the good I wish to point out 
the relation between the view of the moral judgment that has 
been here presented and certain classical theories of the subject. 
This procedure will enable us to see the doctrines of this book 
in their historical setting and thereby gain some additional in- 
sight into their significance. It will also afford an opportunity to 
formulate the reasons which have led me to reject certain famous 
and influential ethical systems. 

The Classification of Ethical Theories 

Theories of right may be classified according to the solution 
they propose for either of the two fundamental problems, the 
content of the standard, and the source of the standard in the 
mind. 

The leading theories of the standard are three in number. First 
there is Utilitarianism. This holds that moral judgments pro- 
nounce conduct right or wrong according to its relation as cause 
to the welfare of conscious beings, as effect.^ Utilitarianism does 
not necessarily deny the intrinsic value of character. On the con- 
trary the existence of such value is a fundamental factor in the 
systems of Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, both of whom are ortho- 
dox Utilitarians; and a careful reader will discover it without 
difliculty in the writings of Hume. What Utilitarianism main- 
tains is that intrinsic excellence can not serve as the criterion of 
right and wrong; in other words the immediate attractiveness of 
conduct does not as such determine its rightness. 

A second theory may be termed iEsthetic. The word (Esthetic 
is here used in a large sense. It is meant to cover all the judg- 
ments which form the subject matter of Chapter X. The most 
influential representatives of this point of view are Aristotle 

*See above Chapter II, especially page 35 f. 

304 



305 


TWO TYPES OP ETHICAL THEORY 

and the Stoics. Neither of these systems is purely ©sthetic; each 
contains a very considerable Utilitarian element. But since their 
characteristic feature — ^that which distinguishes them from others 
— is the use of the »sthetic element in character as the measure 
of right and wrong conduct, they may properly be called ^Esthetic 
theories. 

A third system or congeries of systems denies that the right- 
ness of an action has any necessary relation to its value, whether 
extrinsic or intrinsic. To lie, for example, is wrong. This is not 
due to the fact that a lie has harmful effects upon its victim or 
society at large. It is not due to the immediate repulsiveness of 
the liar, and thus of the practice of lying. All that can and need 
be said is that lying is wrong in itself. Curiously enough the 
school which holds these views, although it has played a very 
important role in the history of ethics, has no name which desig- 
nates accurately its characteristic feature. I should like to call 
theories of this type anaxiotic. Axios is the Greek word for valu- 
able; a or an, serving as a prefix, means “absence of.^^ However, 
for reasons which will appear presently, I shall yield to a usage 
which has become very deeply ingrained and, like everyone else, 
call them by the misleading name of Intuitionistic. 

Again, theories of ethics may be classified according to their 
conception of the source of the standard in the human mind. 
Here there are two leading rivals in the field. I shall call them 
Rationalism and Voluntarism respectively. The former places the 
source of the distinction between right and wrong in the intui- 
tions of reason; the latter in some element or elements of what 
may be termed “will.” “Will” is here used in a broad sense to 
include all those mental elements which, when joined to ideas 
of possible results, contribute to the production of voluntary 
action. 

In the present and in the following Chapter, I shall try to 
present the principal features of each of these two sets of theories. 
In order to be as concrete as possible I shall to a considerable 
extent deal with individual representatives of the different points 
of view. I shall make no attempt however to sketch any one 
man’s system as a whole. My sole aim is to present a picture of 
certain important types of thought, and I shall use individual 



306 ETHICS 

moralists in so far as they serve this purpose and drop them when 
they are no longer needed. 

In the presentation immediately before us I shall use theories 
of the standard as the basis of classification. The next Chapter 
will be devoted to Utilitarianism; the present one will deal with 
the most significant non-Utilitarian systems. 


Intuitionism 

One of the great historical theories of modern times is that 
which is commonly called Intuitionism. This name, taken as the 
designation of an account of the moral standard, is an unfortu- 
nate one, since it is derived from a certain conception of the 
source of the moral judgment. And this conception is shared, 
as will be shown in the following Chapter, by a number of 
Utilitarians. The proper title for this point of view is, as sug- 
gested just above, anaxiotic. But the name Intuitionistic has 
probably come to stay. Furthermore, wdiile it is not true that 
all Intuitionistic theories are anaxiotic, it is a fact that prac- 
tically all anaxiotic systems are in the large sense of the term 
Intuitionistic. They are thus, so to speak, the Intuitionists par 
excellence. In view of this situation I shall use the traditional 
terminology — but under protest. 

The founders of this school flourished at Cambridge University 
at the beginning of modern ethical investigation in Europe, in 
the latter half of the seventeenth century. Their writings re- 
ceived form and content in large measure from their opposition 
to two great streams of thought w^hich were very popular among 
their educated and half-educated contemporaries. One of these 
movements was Egoistic Utilitarianism. It was represented most 
effectively at that time by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), a vig- 
orous and able man, w’ho may be said to have started the 
systematic study of ethics in the modern world. Egoistic Utili- 
tarianism is the outcome of an attempt to derive the phenomena 
of morality from the proposition that the sole motive of human 
action is the desire for personal pleasure. In the course of this 



TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 307 

adventure right gets defined as obedience to a command whether 
of God| the statCi or public opinion — a command which derives 
all its drive from the fear of Hell, the penitentiary, or social 
ostracism. 

The other movement which aroused the Cambridge philoso- 
phers to action was Subjectivism. This had no supporters among 
the moralists of the period; indeed the systematic defense of 
this position has had to wait, in the modern world, for the com- 
ing of our own generation.* The seventeenth century scholars 
were acquainted with it through the fragmentary reports which 
had come down to them of the teachings of certain Greek thinkers 
commonly known as skeptics. But Subjectivism had long before 
obtained a popular advocate in the French writer Montaigne, 
whose Essays, first published in 1580, had for generations an 
enormous vogue. Since then, in one form or another, it has always 
had a considerable following. 

Subjectivism is not a special type of ethical theory in the 
sense in which the term may be applied, for example, to Intui- 
tionism. This is to say, it is not a system offering or attempting 
to offer a consistent and closely knit set of solutions for all the 
fundamental problems of right and wrong. Tlic essence of 
Subjectivism is the denial of the objectivity of moral distinctions, 
and any theory which takes this position is ipso facto Subjecti- 
vistic. In addition most Subjectivists hold a particular theory of 
the meaning of right and the source of moral distinctions. But 
they need not do so; and, in fact, many writers on ethical mat- 
ters who can only be classified as Subjectivists have no opinions 
whatever with regard to this latter topic. 

Those Subjectivists who have tried to think through the prob- 
lems of right and wrong to the end commonly formulate their 
position in the two following propositions. (1) When I call an 
action right I am expressing nothing more than the fact that 
the sight or thought of this action arouses in my mind a certain 

* Westermarck’s The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (l«t 
Edition, 1906) is the most extensive treatment of ethics in the English lan- 
guage from the Subjectivist point of view. The eighteenth century 
Rationalists regarded Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Hume as Subjectivists; 
with what justice, we shall see in the following chapter. 



308 


ETHICS 


emotion (or “feeling”). (2) There is no unity of emotional en- 
dowment in the race, some men feeling one way and others 
feeling very differently about precisely the same action. A, for 
example, is attracted by the idea of revenge; to B, on the other 
hand, it is abhorrent. Under these conditions revenge is for A 
entirely justified; for B, on the other hand, it would be wrong. 
And this is the end of the matter. 

It was these two views. Egoistic Utilitarianism and Subjectiv- 
ism, that Intuitionism tried to confute by building up a system 
resting upon an entirely different foundation. What it was par- 
ticularly concerned to show was that morality does not have its 
source in the emotions or any other "feelings” of the human mind, 
nor in fear of penalties of whatever sort. Its ultimate source, on 
the contrary, is in the “nature of things”: that is to say, in the 
essential structure of human relationships, which is what it is, 
whether anybody happens to believe it to be such or otherwise, 
and whether he likes it or not. These relationships are made 
known to us by reason, an infallible power of the mind which 
apprehends certain kinds of truth directly without the necessity 
of any appeal to observation. Hence it follows that moral dis- 
tinctions are objective, not subjective. That is to say, they hold 
for everyone, like any other form of truth; so that there can be 
no mistaken opinions about the fundamental demands of the 
moral law. 

These views were developed by a number of British writers of 
whom Joseph Butler (1692-1752) and Richard Price (1723-1791) 
were the most eminent. The former was the more original, and 
made the more important contributions to ethics. But as they 
were set forth chiefly in sermons they were unsystematic in form 
and dealt with special problems. Price was the great systematizer. 
He saw clearly and fully what is involved in the very nature of 
an Intuitionistic theory of ethics, and proceeded to work it 
out into a consistent whole, as far as the nature of stubborn facts 
would permit. His is the first treatise which gives us anything 
like a well-rounded picture of such a system. It is not merely 
the first in time ; it is also, in many respects, the best in quality. 
Intuitionism of the type of Price was for a century the orthodox 
moral theory of our American colleges and universities. 



TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 


309 


The Soxjkcb of Moral Distinctions 

The Intuitionistic account of our moral standards is quite 
unintelligible without an understanding of its views as to the 
source of the moral judgment. This is Rationalistic in nature, 
as this term was defined above, p. 305. Ethical Rationalism, in 
its turn, is, if not the direct outcome of, at least very intimately 
related with, a certain theory of knowledge and of the intellectual 
powers by which knowledge is gained. According to this view 
the mind possesses the power to see intuitively or directly cer- 
tain universal principles which lie at the foundation of all our 
knowledge. By intuitively is meant, independently of observa- 
tion or of inference from previous experience. These we recognize 
as true, immediately upon their presentation to the mind, with 
a strength of conviction that nothing can ever shake. Examples 
of such axioms, or self-evident truths, are: “If equals be added 
to equals, the sums will be equal;” “Of two contradictory propo- 
sitions both cannot be true;” “Every event must have a cause.” 
An eminent representative of this school, Thomas Reid, slates 
this position as follows: 

[Self-evident] ^^propositions [are those] which are no sooner under- 
stood than th(\y are believed. The judgment [i.e., the belief] follows 
the apprehension of them necessarily, and both are equally the work 
of nature and the result of our original powers. Th(*re is no searching 
for evidence, no weighing of arguments: the proposition is not 
deduced or inferred from another; it has the light of truth in itself, 
and has no occasion to borrow it from another.” 

Applying this conception of reason to the field of ethics most 
Intuitionists hold that there are moral principles, such as 
“Veracity is right,” which are, in like manner, self-evident. We 
perceive their truth as clearly and certainly as we see the truth 
of an axiom of arithmetic or geometry. That power or faculty 
of the mind by which we apprehend self-evident truths is called 
“reason.” In so far as reason makes us aware of our duties, 
that is, reveals to us moral truths, it may be called practical 
reason,” or “conscience.” Of course no one believes that babies 
are born thinking to themselves: “Honesty is right,” any more 

• On the InteUectiial Powen, Essay VI, Ch. IV. 



310 


ETHICS 


than they are born saying to themselves: ‘Tf equals be added to 
equals the sums will be equal/' What is meant is, that the mind 
is so constructed that, on developing to the point where it can 
understand the meaning of such propositions, it necessarily as- 
sents to their truth immediately upon hearing them. 

From the way in which this knowledge arises it follows that 
it is universal, that is, accepted by everyone, like the mathe- 
matical axioms. I may therefore appeal to the conscience of all 
other men with complete assurance that its utterances will agree 
with those of my own, and that they will thus acknowledge, in 
fundamentals, the same obligations that I do. Hence the ulti- 
mate principles of morals recognized by the lay conscience hold 
for every human being without exception. It follows also that, 
with regard to these fundamentals, there can be no difference 
between what we believe to be right and what is really right, 
because the former and the latter are always and everywhere 
identical. 

On this view all mistakes in moral judgments are due merely 
to our failure to recognize a given action as a case belonging 
under one of our axioms, such as that of justice or veracity. 
Thus a guard at a railroad crossing at which a terrible accident 
had taken place one night, testified in court that he had swung 
his lantern in front of the oncoming automobile; but he omitted 
to state that, in consequence of his carelessness, the lantern was 
not lighted. If he made this declaration with a perfectly good 
conscience, Intuitionism would explain his moral obtuseness by 
claiming that while he unquestionably knew it is wrong to lie, 
he did not understand the nature of a lie; that is, he did not see 
that it consists essentially in the attempt to create in another 
person, by whatever means, a belief which you yourself do not 
share. His error, therefore, lay, not in believing it right to lie 
but in supposing he had not lied. 

The Meaning op Right 

We now turn to the Intuitionistic definition of the meaning 
of right. The standard view of this school was first stated ex- 
plicitly by Richard Price in his Review of the Principal Ques- 
tions in Morals, published in 1758. According to him right is an 



TWO TYPES OP ETHICAL THEORY 311 

unanalyzable concept, a concept in other words, that can no more 
be defined than the terms similarity or red. Wo can tell by im- 
mediate experience what it stands for, we can feel within us the 
authoritative demand it makes upon our will, regardless of our 
comfort, pleasure, or profit; but these things can neither be 
described nor defined because they are ultimate and thus irre- 
ducible to anything else. To define, for example, the word 
vertebrate, is to analyze, to separate the idea into its parts; as 
an animal having a spinal cord and a body approximately 
bilaterally S 3 rmmetrical. But the concept right has no parts, is 
made up of no elements found elsewhere in our experience. 
Therefore, no definition is possible. Furthermore, no definition 
is necessary. Look within, and the meaning of right in the sen- 
tence: ^Tt is right to pay your debts,” will reveal itself to you 
as directly as the meaning of red in 'The American flag contains 
the color red,” or the meaning of similar or like, in the sentence, 
"these two coins look like each other.” 

Whewell’s Account of the Moral Standard 

According to Intuitionism, as we have seen, the moral code 
is a revelation of reason. Since the fundamental dictates of 
morality are thus self-evident, are known directly without the 
necessity of inference or an appeal to experience, and are com- 
mon to the race, one would suppose it would be an easy matter 
to formulate them. Nevertheless the representatives of this 
school have had great difficulty in performing this task in such 
a way as to satisfy any large number of their fellow moralists. 
One of the most carefully elaborated expositions of the rules 
of morality prepared by any member of this school is that 
which we owe to the English philosopher Whcwell (1794-1866). 
It will be found in his Elements of Morality, Book II, Chapter ii. 
It reduces the requirements of the moral law to five special 
axioms which represent the insights of reason applied to human 
relations in the same sense in which the axioms of geometry may 
be supposed to represent the insights of reason applied to space. 
His list reads as follows: 

1. Benevolence: "Man is to be loved as man;” 

2. Justice: "Each man is to have his own;” 

3. Veracity: "We must speak the truth;” 



312 ETHICS 

4. Purity: "The lower parts of our nature are to be governed by the 
higher;" 

5. Order: "We must accept positive laws as the necessary conditions 
of morality." 

Whewell does not aflSrm that these five cardinal virtues actu- 
ally cover the whole of morality. But they are at any rate ‘‘the 
main elements in that notion of goodness which all mankind 
admire, esteem, and love." 

Certain of these principles demand a few words of explana- 
tion. In his formula for benevolence, Whewell intends that the 
word love shall be taken literally, as an emotional outpouring 
of the same nature, though not necessarily of the same intensity, 
as that which a mother feels for her child. In criticizing his 
theory it would not be fair to lay upon it any such incubus. He 
undoubtedly borrowed the word love from the language of the 
Gospels, as translated into English. But the requirement of the 
Gospels in its relation to man is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor 
08 thyself/^ To love one^s self, in the sense of feeling affection 
for self, is, however, impossible. Love therefore in this connec- 
tion must mean not affection but desire to serve; and a loyal 
disciple of Whewell, acting as the defender of his general posi- 
tion, might demand with perfect propriety that it be not inter- 
preted to mean anything more. Whe well’s mistake doubtless lay 
in identifying love and altruism, a mistake which was criticized 
in Chapter V. With regard to veracity he inadvertently makes 
it include the keeping of promises, agreements, and contracts. 
This is an arbitrary identification, but one not fatal to the sys- 
tem; for a modern disciple could easily meet criticism by formu- 
lating a special axiom for promises and adding it to the list. 
Finally, the principle of order expresses the obligation to obey 
the laws of the city or the state, or the commands of legally 
constituted authority. 

In order fully to understand the significance of Whewell’s 
"five commandments," we must note that moralists of his type 
absolutely repudiate the doctrine that the rightness of conduct 
is determined fundamentally by the interests of society. They 
would of course admit a general coincidence between the com- 
mands of the moral law and the requirements of social welfare; 



TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 313 

and they include benevolence, in the sense of the aim to serve 
our fellow men, among the cardinal virtues. But they would 
regard this coincidence (outside of the field of “benevolence”) 
as a mere matter of chance (or possibly an arrangement specially 
ordained by Providence) ; and would insist that in very many 
cases it does not obtain. It is notorious, they would claim, that 
a man may recognize an obligation to tell the truth, to be faith- 
ful to his agreements, to act justly, and keep the lower parts of 
his nature under control, without any thought of the good he 
is thereby doing his neighbor; and sometimes, they would add, 
he is, in fact, doing no good but perhaps actual harm. If this 
contention is true, rightness and conduciveness to welfare must 
be in essence two entirely different things. 

Our examination of the value of Whewell’s code as a contribu- 
tion to the science of ethics may be brief, since our entire account 
of the moral judgment beginning with Chapter II has been in 
effect a running criticism upon it. 

In appraising the claims of any moral principle to be an 
intuition of reason we must have some criteria for distinguishing 
between real axioms and maxims of conduct which appear to us 
self-evident merely because we can not remember a time when 
they did not appeal to us as true. Such criteria have been offered 
by Professor Sidgwick in the Methods of Ethics, Book III, Chap- 
ter XI, section 2. The most important of them are the following: 

1. “The terms of the proposition must be clear and precise.” 

2. “The propositions accepted as self-evident must be mutu- 
ally consistent.” 

3. “They must command universal assent on the part of those 
who understand their meaning.” 

To these must be added a criterion insisted upon repeatedly 
in Chapter XIII of the same book: 

4. “The propositions must really direct us how to act,” that 
is, they must not be tautological. Perhaps this may be in- 
cluded under 1, because we never suppose ourselves to be say- 
ing something when in reality we are saying nothing except as 
the terms we use are far removed from clearness and precision. 

If we examine WhewelPs moral axioms in the light of the 



314 ETHICS 

above criteria their unfitness to serve as the foundation of a 
code of conduct becomes obvious at once. Let us take up each 
in turn. First: ''Man is to be loved [i,e., served] as man.” This 
statement offends against the first of the above requirements, 
for it gives me not the slightest information as to how much 
service I am to give and how much repression I am to exercise 
upon my selfish desires for the benefit of others. For example, 
are my positive obligations in the way of service completely 
met if I conform my conduct to Cicero’s dictum that "Whatever 
one can give without suffering loss should be given, even to an 
entire stranger?” Or are the proper limits of sclf-sacrifice set 
by the words: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself?” Or 
must I go still farther and accept the maxim of the philosopher 
Comte: "Live solely for others?” Whewell’s formula throws no 
light whatever on these all-important questions. 

The second rule declares: "Each man is to have his own.” 
The word own may mean either one of two things: First, that 
which I actually possess. In this interpretation the formula de- 
clares that every man should be allowed to keep that which 
he happens to possess, no matter how he got it. Obviously such 
a conception of justice is preposterous. The second meaning of 
own is that which I ought to have. W^ith this interpretation the 
formula reads, Every one ought to have what he ought to have — 
which is true, but not enlightening. 

The principle of veracity declares, "We must speak the truth.” 
What, then, are we to do in case of a serious conflict between 
the demands of benevolence and veracity? What, for example, 
are we to say of a lie told to save a man from death or from 
an imprisonment for life which he does not deserve, like the lie 
of Sister Simplice in Les Miserablesf Is one to tell the truth even 
in such circumstances? If you say Yes, you have lost the uni- 
versal assent of the race. If you say No, then you must have 
what Whewell does not provide, namely some intuitive rule 
which will tell when benevolence is to prevail and when veracity. 
What Whewell actually does is to admit very grudgingly that 
there may be exceptions in cases of necessity, and to refuse to 
supply the rule which would determine the boundaries within 
which they are permissible. 



TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 315 

The other rules we can dismiss even more briefly. The fourth, 
termed the law of purity, is a vague assertion of the relation of 
the higher to the lower which is involved in the very notion of 
morality. It is stated so loosely that it is capable of affording 
no definite directions of any sort. Finally, the principle of order 
does not mean and can not mean that under no circumstances 
whatever is armed rebellion against legally constituted political 
authority permissible. Again it is the old dilemma. Deny abso- 
lutely the justification of all rebellion or other forms of dis- 
obedience to law and you have the greater part of the public 
opinion of the world against you. Affirm it for extreme cases and 
you need a new rule, as in the case of veracity, which will assign 
this right (or duty) its limits. 

Kant’s Account of the Moral Standard 

A more plausible formulation of the moral code in Intuition- 
istic terms was presented by the German philosopher Kant 
(1724-1804). At all events, no other has ever met with so wide 
an acceptance among modern Europeans. It reads (in one of 
its several forms) '^Act so that the maxim of thy will can always 
serve, at the same time, as a principle of universal legislation.” * 
This is the famous categorical imperative. It is so called because 
it binds not hypothetically, that is to say, as a means to an 
end in which a person happens to be interested (for example, if 
you want to become a successful athlete go into training), but 
unconditionally or categorically. This supreme principle is sup- 
posed to represent a law of action revealed to us by reason. 
Reason is here thought of, not as revealing a special set of 
ethical axioms, as with Whewell, but as the source of the prin- 
ciple of contradiction. Reason forbids us to contradict ourselves, 
alike in our thoughts and our actions. What reason forbids or 
commands to one it necessarily forbids or commands to every- 
one else. Hence, that mode of action must be wrong which, if 
practiced by everyone, would be self-destructive; or, in other 
words, which it is literally impossible to conceive as a universal 
principle of action. As an illustration, Kant offers the borrowing 
of money with no intention of returning it. Such a course of ac- 
^Critique of Practical Reason, Part I, Book I, Ch. i, sec. 7. 



316 


ETHICS 


tion could not become a universal practice because, under such 
circumstances, the would-be borrower would not be able to find 
anyone who would lend to him. The very idea of universal 
borrowing without returning is thus self-contradictory. 

When we attempt to apply this criterion to actual concrete 
cases, we find ourselves face to face with a very serious am- 
biguity. Does our formula mean quite literally “everyone/^ or 
rather “Everyone that wishes to?” Apparently the former. 
Only in this way, at least, is it possible to justify some of the 
most insistent convictions of the ordinary man’s conscience. 
Take, for example, the case of lying. If, every time everyone 
used his vocal organs, he lied, no one would pay any attention 
to what anyone else said. Speech, and with it untruthful speech, 
would disappear. But, as a matter of fact, in most of our 
ordinary conversation we have no motives whatever for lying. 
Accordingly, if men lied only when they wanted to deceive, this 
would not happen often enough to render all communication 
impossible; it would merely result in very serious harm. If the 
Kantian formula, therefore, is to supply us with the ground for 
condemning unveracity, it must take the term everyone seriously 
and interpret its imperative to mean: That action is wrong 
which would be self-destructive if performed by everyone every 
time he had an opportunity and whether he had any desire to 
perform it or not. 

If this conclusion is valid, however, some surprising conse- 
quences follow. It is not, to be sure, necessarily false for this 
reason. But we had perhaps better look before we leap. Kant, 
as some of his critics have not failed to note, was a bachelor. 
If every man lived as he lived, that is to say, without children, 
all human life, and with it the possibility of anyone living as 
a bachelor, would soon be brought to an end. The apologists for 
Kantianism, like Abbott in his Introduction to his translation 
of the Kantian ethics,® contend that the maxim on which Kant 
acted: Those may remain unmarried who so desire, is entirely 
in accordance with his formula, because enough people will 
always want to marry and have children to keep the race going. 
But we have just seen that this interpretation of the categorical 

^Kant*9 Theory of Ethics, p. liv. 



TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 317 

imperative does not exclude unveracity — a conclusion pre- 
sumably imacceptable to the members of this school. 

These illustrations, I believe, are typical, so that the same 
dilemma will meet us wherever we turn. Kant and his disciples 
have succeeded in concealing the real situation from themselves 
by using now one of the possible meanings of their formula and 
now another, according as the varying exigencies of controversy 
have happened to dictate. They have thus failed to see that 
either interpretation, applied consistently, would wreck the 
system. 

But now let us carry the argument a step further. Suppose it 
could be shown, on any system of hermeneutics you choose, that 
a given kind of action would become impossible by becoming 
universal. What of it? This fact would not make anyone feel 
an obligation to refrain from it unless he wished, on one ground 
or another, its continued existence. Suppose, for example, that 
vaccine fluid could be obtained only from human beings who 
were suffering from smallpox. Suppose, furthermore, that vac- 
cination were an unfailing protection against the onset of this 
disease. Suppose, finally, that smallpox propagated itself only 
through contagion, having its source in other cases of the same 
disease. Under such circumstances universal vaccination would, 
in time, destroy the possibility of all vaccination. So far from 
condemning the practice on this ground, we should regard it as 
the most impressive consideration that could be urged in its 
favor. 

We have been using a certain formulation of the Kantian 
standard and interpreting it in a way expressly sanctioned by 
Kant himself.® But he has another formula for the categorical 
imperative besides the one which we have just been studying, 
intended to include and go beyond it. Fairness demands that we 
should not leave the subject until we have examined it also. 
It reads, “Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the 
same time will that it should become a universal law.” ^ Confine 
the laws of morality to those which, if universalized, destroy 

* ^'Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals; Second Sec- 
tion” (Abbott, Kanl*s Theory of Ethics, p. 41). 

^"Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals; Second Sec- 
tion” (Abbott, op. eit^ p. 38). 



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ETHICS 


each other and, as Kant himself recognized, you can find no 
place for the multiform duties of positive service. For example, 
there is nothing self-contradictory about the maxim, ‘'Every 
one must depend upon his own efforts for his own subsistence.” 
It is merely, if carried through to the end, inhuman. This diflB- 
culty the formula just quoted is deliberately designed to meet. 
Does it really do so? 

My answer is that this second formulation of the categorical 
imperative, while in a sense quite beyond criticism as a state- 
ment of the moral ideal, can not save the system, and this for 
two reasons. In the first place, the source of the formula is not 
reason in the sense in which Kant claims it to be. That is to 
say, it is not the product of the bare principle of contradiction. 
If I should ever be in need of money, Kant argues, I should 
want others to help me. Hence I can not will universal observ- 
ance of the principle: Every man for himself. This contention, 
it seems to me, is open to a fatal objection. A thoroughly selfish 
man would always want to get as much as possible out of every- 
one else, alike whether he was a pauper or a millionaire. But, 
rich or poor, if sufficiently confident in his intellectual powers 
to believe in his own eventual success in amassing wealth, he 
would prefer to accept the maxim: “Let everyone look out 
solely for himself,” rather than its alternative, “Bear ye one 
another's burdens.” To say that an egoist would not be willing 
to adopt the first maxim for fear he might some day need 
someone else's help is to say that no one would want to ride in 
an automobile because if crippled in an accident he would wish 
be had stayed at home. The strong man who adopts the principle: 
Let those who have share with those who have not, is one whose 
desires for good extend to his neighbors as well as himself. The 
source of the desire for a society permeated by the spirit of 
mutual aid is thus not reason in the Kantian sense, but benevo- 
lence. Thus when Rationalism finally obtains a formula which 
can actually be used, it turns out to have its source not in the 
principle of contradiction but in the desire for the good of our 
fellow-men. 

It will be noticed, in the second place, that this formula of 
Kant's is identical with that which was presented in Chapter 



319 


TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 

VII, page 110 of this book. But it there appears, not as a formula 
for the standard of right, but as the definition of what we mean 
by right. It was an account of the predicate of the moral judg- 
ment, not the subject. Right means that mode of conduct which 
we wish everyone to perform. But the question remains. What 
are the modes, or what is the mode of action which we wish 
everyone to perform? It is the answer to the latter which pro- 
vides the formula for the standard. What Kant has done is, 
ignoring entirely the problem of meaning as such, to present a 
definition of right as a criterion of right. In his own language, 
he has tried to make a synthetic out of an analytic judgment. 

An Examination of the Intuitionistic Account of the 
Meaning of Right 

The fundamental assertions of Intuitionism about the moral 
judgment may be set forth as follows. In the judgment: The 
volition A is right, (1) right is an uqanalyzable concept (2) 
having its source in reason; and (3) the connection between A 
and right, or the truth of the statement that A is right, is in- 
tuitively perceived by reason also, provided the judgment con- 
stitutes a fundamental moral principle. Our study of Whewcll 
and Kant, in this Chapter, and of Cumberland and Sidgwick in 
the following one justifies the assertion, I believe, that the third 
of the above propositions is untenable. We shall now examine 
the first and second together. I shall try to show that no sufii- 
cient evidence has anywhere been offered to overthrow the 
position that right is analyzable and can be defined in terms of 
desire. 

The grounds upon which this school bases its doctrine of the 
indefinability of right is the alleged failure of all attempts 
hitherto made to analyze and define it.® The attempts they have 
in mind are two in number. The first is that of Subjectivism!, 
which contents itself with a definition of right as that which 
arouses a feeling of approbation. The second is represented by 
the definition of Egoistic Utilitarianism, according to which 

•Price, A Review of the Principal Questions in Morals, Book I, Chapter 
in, svb irdt. Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics, Book I, Chapter III. It should 
be noted that Kant has no formulated theory of the meaning of right. 
Apparently he never even saw the problem. S 



320 


ETHICS 


right means commanded, whether by God or the state or public 
opinion. Intuitionism declares that the first is false because it 
is incompatible with the objectivity of moral distinctions, which 
is assumed at the outset of the inquiry. The second is easily 
shown to be out of all relation with the facts of the moral ex- 
perience, since the fear of a penalty and the consciousness of 
right are very different things. Thereupon it is assumed that 
these represent the only definitions of right which any human 
being can possibly offer. Hence it is concluded that the term is 
indefinable. It is hardly necessary to say that if some other 
definition can be found, whether it be our own definition as 
worked out in Chapter VII, or some other, this entire argument 
fails to the ground. 

The initial mistake of Intuitionism seems to me to consist in 
assuming objectivity, independently of all attempts at proof. 
It is indeed true that the layman regards moral judgments as 
having objective validity. This is proved, inter alia, by his 
spontaneous recognition that of two contradictory judgments one 
must be false. This attitude is not at all peculiar to our own 
civilization. It can be found in ancient Greece, Rome, Palestine, 
and China, as easily as in the Europe or America of today. 
It appears to dominate the workings of the consciousness of 
primitive man equally with that of the highest representatives 
of the race. But these indubitable facts raise two questions: 
(1) Precisely what is the nature of the objectivity which is 
implied in the layman^s moral judgments? (2) Can it be main- 
tained that objectivity in this sense is a fact? Untrained thought 
is mistaken about a thousand matters. Our first notions on any 
subject are almost invariably false. If objectivity is something 
more than a popular delusion, its vindication should appear 
during the course of the investigation; it should not be adopted 
as a postulate at the start. When the average man says the 
grass is green he is attaching the quality of greenness to the 
grass in the sense in which no physicist, physiologist, or psy- 
chologist, and no metaphysician who has learned from these 
men of science would think of justifying. How dare anyone 
assert in advance that in the moral field the layman may not 
be the victim of a similar error? In reality the proposition that 



321 


TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 

moral distinctions are objective may mean several different 
things. In which of these meanings it is a verifiable fact, or 
whether it is so in any possible meaning of the term, are matters 
that can be determined only after a most searching examina- 
tion of the layman’s judgments. 

The foregoing strictures upon Intuitionism give, I fear, a de- 
cidedly false impression of the significance of this valiant school 
of thinkers for the progress of ethical theory. It has served as 
a perpetual witness to the reality of certain aspects of the moral 
life to which many of its opponents have been incurably blind. 
It has declared in no uncertain tones that morality can never be 
explained in terms of the egoistic side of human nature. It has 
proved that the moral law can not have its source in arbitrary 
commands, whether of God, or the state, or of public opinion. 
It has insisted that character is valuable not merely as a means 
for the production of useful actions but also as an end in itself. 
It has shown, as against Subjectivism, that the layman in calling 
actions wrong always means something more than an affirma- 
tion of the feeling of mere personal dislike for it. And it has, 
at the least count, invited the moralists to justify this conclu- 
sion and save the words right and wrong from being mulcted of 
a great part of their meaning. In fact, for two and a half cen- 
turies it has performed a service of the greatest importance in 
keeping the entire problem of objectivity, with all its ramifica- 
tions, in the foreground of ethical discussion. Finally, it has 
asserted, even though with much obscurity of expression and 
indeed of thought, that morality with all the sacrifices it may 
entail is still our reasonable service. There can be no doubt 
that contemporary ethical theory would be far behind where 
it is today if it had not been for the labors of this long line of 
able and vigorous students. 


II 

Aristotelian iEsTHETicisM 

Of all non-utilitarian theories of the moral standard, that of 
Aristotle seems to me to be the most plausible. It has been 
formally adopted, as far as I am aware, by no modem moralist 



322 


ETHICS 


of note; but during the past fifty years it has exercised a pro- 
found influence upon that distinguished group of men who form 
what, for want of a better name, may be called the school of 
T. H. Green. 

This account of the standard is Aristotle’s most important 
contribution to the theory of the moral judgment. He does not 
really face the other questions concerning right and wrong. 
We can infer with a certain measure of plausibility what his 
attitude would have been towards some issues upon which he 
was silent, or rather what in consistency it ought to have been. 
By implication he treats desire as the source of moral distinc- 
tions. But beyond this point the student of ethical history would 
be rash to go. 

The essential feature of Aristotle’s description of the moral 
judgment is the leading role assigned to judgments of the type 
described in Chapter X. For this reason, as has already been 
suggested, his system may without serious impropriety be termed 
iEstheticism, although other than »sthetic factors are demon- 
strably present. These judgments are based upon the direct 
attractions and repulsions aroused by certain actions, or by the 
kind of person who wills them. Aristotle draws up a list of ten 
virtues with the corresponding vices. We shall attempt to ac- 
quaint ourselves with the spirit of his system by examining 
the account of two of them. We shall begin, as he does, with 
courage. 

Courage has to do with control of fear. But there are some 
things, such as disgrace, that we ought to fear. 

“What then is the object of fear with which courage is concerned? 
Surely that which is the object of the greatest fear — for the courageous 
man is the man to face it-^eath, which puts an end to life. But not 
death, as such, however coming — thus, not death by shipwreck or 
disease — but death coming gloriously in battle. He is courageous, in the 
strict sense, who is without dread of a glorious death, and of the risks 
which bring it to dose quarters with him in sudden onslaught — and 
such above all are the risks of war; not that the courageous man is 
not also without dread of death by shipwreck or disease; but the pros- 
pect of such a death does not call forth his peculiar excellence, for he 
revolts against it as miserable and inglorious . . . nor can he take up 
arms and defend himself against it. It is only where a man can take 
up arms and defend himself, or where death is glorious, that he can 



323 


TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 

show courage. . . . [The brave man] will govern aright his fear and 
his confidence, facing the danger of battle, as he ought, and as reason 
dictates, for the sake of glorious achievement; for glorious achievement 
is the end of virtue. . . . The habit of courage is a glory to human 
nature: it exists for the sake of being a glory to human nature— to be 
this that it is is its end. To show forth then the peculiar glory of cour- 
age is the end for the sake of which the courageous man faces danger 
and does deeds of courage.'’ 

The word here translated “glorious achievement” is in the 
original kalon, which is the Greek term for beautiful. “To the 
courageous man, courage is essentially a beautiful thing,” writes 
Aristotle, “Therefore the end he has in view in exercising 
courage is the attainment of the beautiful.” ® 

Virtue, according to Aristotle, is a mean between two ex- 
tremes.^® The extremes in this case are foolhardiness and 
cowardice. Where, then, is the line to be drawn between the 
mean and either extreme? Aristotle makes no attempt to tell 
us. The reason is that he believes no general rule can be laid 
down. Courage does not derive any of its moral value from its 
relation to the winning of victories for a just cause. This value 
consists rather in its direct attractiveness. Hence the criterion 
of usefulness fails us and all we can say is that the mean be- 
tween foolhardiness and cowardice is a point whose location is 
discovered in each individual case by the artist in the conduct 
of life through an act of “immediate perception.” An analogy 
is supplied by the ear of the trained violinist, which tells him 
directly whether his instrument is in tune or not. If you carry 
the inquiry a step further and ask. How shall I know whether 
I am an artist whose taste in these matters can be trusted, and 
if it should turn out that I am not a connoisseur, by what mark 
shall I recognize the man who is, and if I find him will his judg- 
ments prove infallible? — ^you are asking questions which Aris- 
totle did not even raise, to say nothing of answering. 

With judgments of the type just presented we are already 

•The first quotation in the paragraph is from the summary of the text 
of the Nichomachean Ethics given by J. A. Stewart in his Notes on the 
Nichomachean Ethics,” Vol. I, pp. 282, 286. The second quotation is 
directly from Aristotle, and follows Peters' translation (page 83), except 
that I have substituted the word ‘^beautiful” for “fair or noble.” 

^The Nichomachean Ethics (Peters' translation), p. 46. 



324 


ETHICS 


quite familiar. Let us then turn to some of another kind. Lib- 
erality is the virtue displayed in one’s attitude towards money. 
In so far as it has to do with the spending of money, it is a mean 
between prodigality — in the sense of wasting one’s substance by 
reckless giving — and illiberality, or ’^stinginess.” All virtuous 
actions are performed for the sake of the admirable or beau- 
tiful. Therefore the liberal man will give, not primarily for the 
sake of his neighbor, but in order to create within himself an 
admirable or beautiful character. Where to begin with his bene- 
factions and where to stop will be revealed to him by the same 
direct insight which discovers the distinction between true and 
false courage. 

There is a striking difference between Intuitionism and Aris- 
totelianism. There exists in the world of human life nothing 
corresponding to the former’s account of the moral judgment. 
There are, of course, certain phenomena which resemble its 
descriptions superficially.'^ In Aristotle’s system, on the other 
hand, we find a very different relationship to the facts. The 
judgments he describes are actual judgments. The questions 
which they raise are accordingly these: Is the description of 
the facts complete in essentials? Are these judgments entitled 
to the name of moral judgments? If so, can they, as he invariably 
assumes, possess validity? 

I shall begin with a discussion of the judgments upon courage. 
While this will, in part, cover ground already traversed, the 
importance of the subject is such that I think it deserves a 
somewhat more detailed treatment than it received in Chapter X. 

In the first place, then, this account of the attitude toward 
courage is defective in that it ignores the fact that many judg- 
ments with regard to facing danger are determined solely by 
utilitarian considerations. There are, in fact, two points of view 
in this matter. It is said that the ofiScers of one of the armies in 
the World War, in the first few weeks of service, refused to 
avail themselves of the protection of the trenches because it 
appeared to them cowardly to avoid danger. This practice con- 
tinued, indeed, until so many of them were picked off by the 
sharpshooters of the enemy that the highest military authorities 

''See above, Chapter II, pp. 26 to 29, Chapter VII, p. 110. 



325 


TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 

had to put a stop to it. Apparently Aristotle would have greeted 
such exhibitions of courage with enthusiasm But now there is 
another point of view and this has been held by soldiers just 
as brave as any, who, in the pursuit of an ideal of personal 
excellence, ever threw away lives sorely needed by their coun- 
try. Says Macaulay of William III of England: “Nothing was 
more hateful and repulsive to this iron character than cowardice ; 
and next to this, useless exposure to danger.^' Our first criticism 
of Aristotle, then, is that he recognizes the existence of no 
standard except the Aesthetic for determining the demands of 
courage, whereas many men — and some of them very brave men 
— accept an entirely different one. 

In the second place, the aesthetic criterion is not the only 
standard applied even by those who are most addicted to its 
use. On the contrary, the most thordugh-going votary of the 
beautiful in conduct will be found gradually losing his devotion 
to it as the utility aimed at in the courageous act grows less 
and less in value. This process of falling away from the faith 
was described in Chapter X. I should like to add one more 
illustration. 

The Chinese philosopher. Me Ti, tells the following story: 

^^ing Kou Tchien, of Yueh, took great pride in the courage of his 
soldiers. He set one of his ships on fire and told his soldiers it contained 
all his treasures. The king himself struck the drum to summon them 
to go forward. When the soldiers heard him beating the drum they 
broke from the ranks, rushed forward in wild confusion, and threw 
themselves into the flames. A hundred were killed before the king 
struck the gong and called them back.' " 

I can not imagine anyone except perhaps a Nietzschean 
who would not regard this piece of stage play as an act of 

"See the Nichomachean Ethics, Book III, ch. viii (Peters’ translation), 
p. 87. Compare Stewart, Notes on the Nichomachean Ethics, Vol. I, p. 
295, and Grote, History of Greece, ch. 87. 

“I have quoted and translated from Horwicz, Psychologische Analysen, 
Vol. II, Second Half, p. 246. 1 have not been able to find the original pas- 
sage, but whether it was applied to the head of the House of Orange by 
Macaulay or by someone else, everyone who remembers the World War 
is perfectly familiar with this type of soldier. C/. Colonel Rooseveltb 
letter, quoted above. Chapter II, p. 24. 

** Philosophtsche Werke, translated by Alfred Forke, p. 247. 



326 


ETHICS 


superlative wickedness. But he who takes this attitude has, in 
principle, accepted King William's criterion of courage. And 
this criterion condemns the officers in the World War to whom 
I have referred, the Moscow guards, and the French workmen 
who threw their lives away, just as unequivocally, even if not 
so severely, as the Chinese king. 

In the attempt to defend Aristotle's delineation of our moral 
ideals, Professor Muirhead writes: The courageous character is, 
for Aristotle, not ^^an isolated phenomenon, but only the inner 
side of the city life to which it ministers and in which it finds 
its end." Although this assertion contradicts flatly certain 
perfectly unambiguous statements of Aristotle himself, I have no 
doubt some such conception was in the background of his mind 
when he wrote this part of the Nichomachean Ethics. If so, it 
only verifies the claim just made. Talk as much as you will 
about a quality like courage being an end in itself, recognized 
as such by a direct judgment of admiration; the fact remains 
that admiration becomes moral approbation only in so far as 
there is in the foreground or background of the mind some con- 
ception, however vague, of a good to be accomplished in the 
performance, outside of the existence of the courageous volition 
itself. What Utilitarianism demands is that this conception be 
brought into the foreground of consciousness and be used as a 
measure of the dangers to which a man ought to expose himself, 
and of those which it is not merely his right but also his duty 
to avoid. 

“Fame," said Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, '“usually comes to 
those who are thinking of something else." The same thing is 
still more unequivocally true of beauty of character. “The pas- 
sionate devotion of a mother to a sick or dying child," writes 
William James, “is perhaps the most simply beautiful moral 
spectacle that human life affords." But what kind of beauty 
would that be which cared nothing for the child but sought only 
to be beautiful? When you consciously pursue beauty of char- 
acter, I care not in what form, it ordinarily eludes you. Forget 
it, think only of the needs which you can supply, the suffering 
that you can avert or heal, and it may become yoms. Here, as 

^ ChapteT9 from Ariatotle^i Ethics, p. 106. 



327 


TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 

elsewhere, he that will save his life shall lose it. For beauty of 
character can come, for the most part, only to those who are 
thinking of something else. 

The preceding discussion will enable us to deal more briefly 
with the non-utilitajfian approbation of liberality. First, what is 
the source of such judgments? I can find no other explanation 
of them than that given above in Chapter X, page 167, and fol- 
lowing. An unselfish man finds in another a congenial spirit and 
is therefore attracted towards him and his ways. There is noth- 
ing peculiar to morals in this fact: I may have the same feeling 
for a man who likes his verses served with rhymes. In conse- 
quence of the influence exerted by discovered congeniality the 
heart of an unselfish man goes out directly to the man who is 
liberal with his money, without apparent consciousness of any 
other considerations. This seems to me to be the source of the 
judgment. The “beauty^^ for the sake of which the liberal man 
is declared by Aristotle to act, can, as far as I can see, be nothing 
other than the desire to have the good man's good will. For 
no one can aim at congeniality with self. But he who is moved 
to liberality only by this motive has never possessed the liberal 
spirit himself, and therefore is not, in reality, congenial with 
the unselfish. It is the same old story. The intrinsic charm of 
the liberal spirit is a fact. But it can never be gained by pur- 
suing it. 

Nor can the ideal of congeniality serve as a valid criterion 
by which to judge the actions of others. Maggie Tulliver, in 
The Mill on the Floss, gave up her lover and with him the 
opportunity of leading a broad, interesting, and happy life. 
This she did for the sake of saving her father a pang which 
he had no right to ask to be spared under the circumstances. 
Yet there are persons who regard this sacrifice as worthy of 
approbation. Apparently George Eliot was one of the number. 
Any observer who is looking only for congeniality and think- 
ing of nothing else will take precisely this attitude. But the 
reflectively and comprehensively benevolent man will include 
Maggie’s fate and the fate of her lover also within the purview 
of his altruism, and will condemn her sacrifice, however well 
meant, for precisely the same reason that he would never allow 



328 


ETHICS 


himself to play the role of the father. In other words this form 
of beauty of character is plainly parasitic upon the eudemonic 
ideal, since only he who in general approves of helpful actions 
and disapproves of harm-bringing actions can feel the immediate 
attractiveness of the altruistic spirit. But he who is possessed 
by this ideal through and through will never permit himself to 
applaud so disproportionate a sacrifice as that of George Eliot’s 
heroine. * 

We reach, at length, by a somewhat circuitous route, the 
conclusion afiirmed in Chapter X. There are many ways in 
which conduct can arouse in the spectator satisfaction or dis- 
satisfaction. Only certain of these can properly be called moral, 
if our definition of moral is to have the self-consistency which 
every definition claims to possess. But however we define our 
terms, the eudemonic ideal is the only one that can be carried 
through consistently; and where other values, whether intrinsic 
or extrinsic, conflict with its demands they have no standing 
in the court of morality. 

I have dealt at considerable length with Aristotle’s description 
of our moral standards because of its practical importance. 
Aristotle gives, within certain limits, one of the most faithful 
accounts of the superficial aspects of the layman’s moral judg- 
ments to be found L\ the literature of ethics. As these judgments 
stand they form a confused tangle of heterogeneous contradic- 
tories: The eudemonic in its various forms, as set forth above 
in Chapters II and III; the dysdemonic; the aesthetic; the anti- 
pathetic; the “judgment of congeniality”; and a number of more 
or less sporadic forms such as those in which we condemn vulgar 
display and the grudged gift. Aristotle recognizes the anti- 
pathetic judgment in his account of “temperance”; the dysde- 
monic, in his discussion of “gentleness.” The latter is the proper 
mean between wrathfulness and wrathlessness,^* the reactions 
of the artist in conduct supplying the criterion of what is proper. 
The eudemonic is also present. It appears in the account of 
distributive justice in Book V, which though probably not writ- 

*8ee Notes, XVI, Judgments of Congeniality and the Law of Retalia- 
tion,” page 515. 

“Peters' translation, p. 122. 



TWO TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY 329 

ten by Aristotle, comes from his school, and presumably repre- 
sents with a fair degree of faithfulness the master’s ideas. 
There is reason to suppose that if he had himself written the 
account of justice the eudemonic judgment would have been 
still more in evidence than it actually is. However that may be, 
in Books III and IV this standard has an interesting way of 
appearing here and there in unexpected places. The character 
of a man given to display and the man who gives grudgingly, 
we are told, are vicious, “but they do not bring reproach because 
they are neither injurious to others nor very offensive in them- 
selves.” A man who has great merits and is not properly con- 
scious of the fact is called little-minded; he that exceeds the 
proper mean in this respect is vain or conceited. “Now, these 
two [extremes] do not seem to be bad, for they do no harm 
although they are in error.” 

The judgments of the average layman contain a far larger 
proportion of eudemonic judgments than can be found in Aris- 
totle’s list. Otherwise his picture of the products of the lay 
conscience, as they appear at first glance and without analysis, 
seems to me essentially correct. If, after the lapse of twenty-two 
hundred years, our analyses had not penetrated a little farther 
below the surface it were great shame to us. 

” Peters, p. 112. 

“Peters, p. 120. 



Chapter XVII 


TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 

Utilitarian theories can be divided into Egoistic and Univer- 
salistic. The term Universalistic Utilitarianism is so cumber- 
some that I shall ordinarily replace it with Universalism. 


Egoistic Utilitarianism 

The beginnings of Egoistic Utilitarianism in the European 
world may be traced back as far as Aristippus of Cyrene, a pupil 
of Socrates. He founded in the early part of the fourth century 
B. C., a school of philosophy called Cyrenaic. It seems to have 
enjoyed a certain measure of prosperity for a time; but finally, 
as Lincoln said of his store in New Salem, it “winked out.*^ 
Epicurus, who came to Athens in 306 B. C., and taught there with 
great success for a generation, adopted the fundamental ethical 
views of Cyrenaicism, modifying and supplementing them, how- 
ever, in some very important respects. He founded a school of 
philosophy in Athens, that is to say, a permanent teaching insti- 
tution, whose seat was in his own garden. This continued in un- 
interrupted existence for nearly nine centuries, until it, together 
with its rivals, was closed by the Emperor Justinian in 576 A. D. 
In the middle ages Epicureanism suffered an eclipse, but reap- 
peared with the “Revival of Learning*^ and the restoration of 
Greek influence. In modern times the systematic study of ethics 
was begun by an adherent of this way of thinking, Thomas 
Hobbes, who flourished about 1650. In the next generation it was 
represented by the most famous of British philosophers, John 
Locke; and from his day till the latter part of the nineteenth 
century it ranked as one of the world’s influential systems of 
ethics. 


330 



TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 


331 


The Standard of Right 

This theory of right and wrong has its source in a certain con- 
ception of the motives which determine conduct. The sole end in 
view, it claims, is the attainment of pleasure or the avoidance 
of pain for self. By pain is meant what many psychologists now 
call “displeasure” or “unpleasantness” — ^that is to say, the op- 
posite of pleasure. If a man accepts pain it is because he expects 
thereby either to avoid a still greater pain, or to gain a pleasure 
which will more than compensate for it. If he refuses an obtain- 
able pleasure it is, similarly, for the sake of gaining some greater 
pleasure or avoiding some counterbalancing pain. When a man 
attempts to increase the pleasure of someone else or refrains 
from injuring him when the opportunity is offered him to do so 
with profit to himself, this again is because he expects to make, 
in the long run, more than he loses by the transaction. 

Right is a thing which some human beings, at least, are capable 
of doing. But no one can do anything without a motive. Hence 
there must be some motive in the mind of man to which the 
rightness of conduct appeals. In view of what has just been said, 
this can only be the desire for personal pleasure with its correla- 
tive aversion from pain. Right conduct is accordingly declared 
to be that conduct which makes for the greatest attainable sur- 
plus of pleasure over pain for me. According to this view it 
would seem that a man may murder, steal, lie, and break his 
promises whenever he thinks such action will best promote his 
own interests. This is certainly the logical corollary of the theory, 
but it is too violent a paradox to be swallowed by anyone. This 
diflSculty is met by asserting with all desirable definiteness that 
the interests of self, properly understood, and the interests of 
society are absolutely identical, so that in best serving one the 
individual is at the same time best serving the other. Self-control, 
courage, and honesty are the best policy in the long run, every- 
where and always. And thus right action may be described as 
that which makes for the maximum obtainable pleasure of society 
as a whole. 



332 


ETHICS 


The Meaning op Right and the Source of Moral 
Distinctions 

Whatever lip service may be done to the good of society, how- 
ever, it is evident that for the Egoistic Utilitarian the pleasure of 
self remains, in the last resort the ultimate standard of right 
and wrong. If so, on what basis do we distinguish, as we con- 
stantly do, a right action from a merely prudent or “wise” one? 
How do we distinguish, for example, between refusing a profit- 
able opportunity to lie because lying is wrong, and refusing an 
opportunity to invest one’s savings in a gold mine because the 
project looks risky. The answer is given by John Locke in the 
following words : 

“Good and evil are nothing but pleasure or pain, or that which 
occasions or procures pleasure or pain to us. Moral good and evil 
[i.e., right and wrong], then, is only the conformity or disagreement 
of our voluntary actions to some law, whereby good and evil is drawn 
on us from the will and power of the law-maker.” ' 

Right, accordingly, is defined as that which is demanded by 
law. This law, says Locke, may be the law of God, the law of 
the state, or the law laid down by public opinion and enforced 
by those penalties which it knows perfectly well how to inflict, 
such as the signs of disapprobation to which we are all so sensi- 
tive. Those actions, therefore, are right, as distinguished from 
prudent, which are demanded under penalty by God or man in 
the interests of social welfare; actions which it will accordingly 
pay you to perform if you wish to avoid the pains of punishment. 

This conclusion makes possible another statement. The com- 
mands and prohibitions which we individually and collectively 
impose upon human conduct have their source in desire — the 
desire, namely, to bring into existence pleasure-giving modes of 
conduct and to discourage the opposite. God, it is said, desires 
the happiness of his creatures (though, if this theory of motives 
be true, it is diflScult to see why) ; hence he has “prescribed [the] 
rules [of morality and] has ordained [a] Hell for the punishment 
of those that transgress them” (Locke). Men desire to be secure 

* Essay concerning Human Understanding, 1690, Book II, Ch. XXVIII, 

Beo. 5. 



TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 333 

against aggression on the part of their fellow-men; hence the 
organized community, or the state, imposes penalties for murder, 
theft, and similar deeds. Finally man has devised another set of 
rewards and penalties, namely praise and blame. Their origin is 
explained by Locke in the following words: “Nothing can be 
more natural than to encourage with esteem and reputation that 
wherein everyone finds his advantage, and to blame and dis- 
countenance the contrary.” ^ This brief suggestion, as developed 
by later writers, can be formulated as follows. Men love the 
praise of others and dislike their blame. If then a given person 
desires (as he certainly will) that his fellow-men should keep 
their promises to him, should tell him the truth, and respect his 
property, he can often secure this treatment by praising these 
kinds of action. This will supply other persons with an induce- 
ment to perform them; and thus through their desire for the 
pleasure of praise and dislike of blame he may be able to gain 
the personal advantages that he desires. For this school of ethics, 
then, the ultimate source of the distinction between right and 
wrong is found in desire. 

The Services of Egoistic Utilitarianism to Ethics 

Such is the account of the moral judgment given by Egoistic 
Utilitarianism. There remains only the duty of appraising its 
services to this department of ethics. These services have been 
of great value. Epicureanism has always asserted that right and 
wrong are determined by the relation of conduct to welfare, 
however inadequate its conception of the nature of this relation 
may have been. It has placed, correctly as I believe, the source 
of the judgment of right in desire. It has contributed its part 
to showing that there is no such conflict between the demands 
of self-interest and the good of society as is commonly supposed 
to exist. These facts assure it a permanent place in the history 
of ethics. But its claims to our acceptance in its entirety are 
destroyed by a large number of considerations, a suflScient one 
being the inadequacy of its account of human motives and the 
impossibility of constructing upon so narrow a foundation a 
sound theory of moral praise and blame. 

•Op. dt., Book II, Ch. XXVni, sec. ii. 



3M 


ETHICS 

II 


Univebsalibtic Utilitarianism: Confucius 

Universalistic UtUitarianism (or ^^Universalism^*) is the gift 
of Asia. Its first unambiguous formulation appears in the teach- 
ings of Confucius (552-471 b.c.). Confucius, like Socrates, the 
founder of Greek ethics (born 469 b.c.) was haunted by the 
problem of the unity of virtue. Have all right actions the same 
fundamental nature? That is to say, are all our approbations 
and disapprobations due to the application to conduct of a 
single standard? Confucius like Socrates answered this ques- 
tion in the aflSrmative. “My doctrine,” he said, “is that of an 
all-pervading unity.*^ But he went further. He felt himself 
able to do that of which Socrates distinctly declared himself 
incapable: he formulated the standard. Tsze-Kung, one of his 
disciples, asked him, 

“ Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for one's 
life?' The Master said: Ts not reciprocity such a word? What you do 
not want done to yourself, do not do unto others.' '' ® 

This rule bids the agent before acting put himself in the place 
of him whom his proposed action will affect. The purpose of 
this requirement can only be to produce in the agent a realizing 
sense of the effects of his actions. That action is right, accord- 
ingly, which is performed with a full realization of its effects 
upon the interests of others. It has been claimed that this 
formula, if regarded as a rigidly scientific presentation of an 
ultimate ethical truth, is one-sided in that a really valid judg- 
ment must take into account the interests of the agent also. 
To this the obvious reply is that we may assume that in 
thinking of others the agent will not forget himself. However, 
I am here concerned not with defending Confucius, but with 
interpreting him. By declaring unequivocally that the morality 
of our actions is determined by their relation to the interests 

• Analecta, Book XV, Ch. XXIII. The translation is that of James Legge, 
Chinese Classica, 2d lotion, Vol. I, p. 301. The word which Legge trans- 
lates reciprocity seems to be nearer to our English word kindness, or 
sympathy. Literally it means '^as heart.’* See the article Confucius in the 
^cyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition. 



TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 335 

of those affected be unquestionably affirms the fundamental 
tenet of Utilitarianism. 

This is Universalistic, not Egoistic Utilitarianism. Confucius, 
to be sure, has left no record of any struggle with subtleties 
such as those which confused Lincoln when he pulled the pigs 
out of the mud.* But the spirit of his thinking is completely 
out of harmony with Lincoln's interpretation of unselfish con- 
duct. One of the subjects, we are informed, of which he seldom 
spoke, was profitableness, which seems quite clearly to mean 
profitableness of virtue to the agent.® Again and again he makes 
statements that sound as if he regarded character as having 
intrinsic value for its possessor. But however such statements 
are to be interpreted, self-realization or self-perfection was 
not for him, as it was for most of the Greek philosophers, the 
last word on the subject. 

'Tsze-lu asked what constituted the superior man. The Master said, 
The cultivation of himself in reverential carefulness.^ ‘And is this all?' 
said Tsze-lu. ‘He cultivates himself so as to give rest to others,' was 
the reply. ‘And is this all?' asked Tsze-lu. The Master said, ‘He culti- 
vates himself so as to give rest to all the people.' " • 

It is often claimed that the Confucian formula demands 
nothing more than negative morality. This is indeed the most 
natural interpretation of the words as they stand. However it 
can be made to include positive morality also: Do not let your 
neighbor starve if you do not want him to let you starve. If 
this may appear a somewhat strained reading, looking at the 
rule in its isolation from the rest of the master's teachings, 
nevertheless it is as a matter of fact that which is required 
by the system taken as a whole. For this is at bottom as 
insistent upon service as it is upon the refraining from injury. 
This statement is true to overflowing in the case of the five 
fundamental relations: father and son; husband and wife; older 
and younger brother; friend and friend; ruler and subject. But 
positive morality is also demanded in the relations of human 

*See above, Chapter V, page 75. 

^Analects, Book IX, Ch. 1. In Legge, op. cit., p. 216. See the translator's 
note. 

* Analects, Book XIV, Ch. XLV. 



336 


ETHICS 


beings, as such, to each other. ^'The man of perfect virtue, 
wishing to establish himself, seeks also to establish others; 
wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others. 
To be able to judge of others by what is nigh to ourselves, this 
may be called the art of virtue.’^ ^ 

We of the Western world are so familiar with the golden rule 
as it appears in the New Testament that we may easily fail to 
appreciate the historical significance of this its first formulation. 
It seems as much of a commonplace to us as the once sensa- 
tional theses that the earth is round and revolves about the sun. 
As a matter of fact, this reduction of all the apparent manifold- 
ness of the requirements of morality to a single formula is one 
of the major achievements of ethical theory, indeed is one of 
the greatest as well as one of the most important generalizations 
to be found in the entire intellectual history of the race. 

Me Ti 

A somewhat more definite and at the same time more radical 
formulation of Universalistic Utilitarianism is that of the Chinese 
philosopher Me Ti or Mo Ti.® This remarkable man has till 
recently been known to us only through a few fragments in 
Legge’s translation of the Chinese Classics,^ In 1922, however, 
there appeared a complete German translation of his teachings 
made by Professor Alfred Forke, so that we are now able to 
examine his conception of the moral ideal in its entirety. Me Ti 
lived about a century after Confucius. His great predecessor 
believed emphatically in the superior claims of the nearer good. 
The novel feature of Me Ti’s doctrine, as compared with that 
of the older philosopher, is the clean-cut and unambiguous as- 
sertion of the principle of equality of consideration for equal 
interests whether they be those of self, the members of one’s 
family, or of others, to the exclusion of the claims of the nearer 

^Analects, Book XIV, Ch. XLV. C/. Book VI, Ch. III. It should be said, 
however, that Confucius* formula does not quite cover all his judgments 
since he believes in the law of retaliation, at least in extreme cases. See 
Analecta, Book XIV, Ch. XXVI; but contrast with this Book V, Ch. 
XXII, and Book VIII, Ch. X. 

•The “e” or “o” is pronounced like the “oe” in Goethe, except that it 
is short. 

•In Vol. n, pp. 100.122. 



TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 337 

and the more excellent as such, as well as the demands of 
revenge. 

“If, then, all the inhabitants of the empire could be induced to come 
together in mutual love, and to love others as themselves, would they 
still show an unfilial spirit? Would there still be imkind persons? . . . 
Would there still be thieves and robbers? When everyone regarded 
another's house as his own, who would rob it? And when everyone 
placed other persons on an equality with self, who would practice 
violence?"* 

Me Ti recognizes to the full the implications of this position. 
Like Confucius he bursts the bonds of tribal morality and pro- 
claims the right of every human being to our forbearance and 
our service. With far greater definiteness than the older teacher 
he asserts that positive morality is equally binding with negative. 

“We will examine the two opposing views, and for this purpose per- 
mit the representative of each to speak. Who are these two representa- 
tives? Let one adhere to the principle of union, the other one to the 
principle of division. The representative of the principle of division 
will say: How can I regard the person of my friend as equal to my 
own, or the relatives of my friend as equal to my own relatives? 
When, therefore, on his way home he sees his friend hungering he feeds 
him not, when his friend is cold he clothes him not, when he is sick he 
cures him not, and when he dies he buries him not. Such are the words 
and such are the deeds of the philosopher of division. The philosopher 
of unity speaks and acts otherwise. He says: I have heard that in 
order to be an eminent scholar in the empire one must under all cir- 
cumstances place the person of his friend on an equality with self, 
and must look upon his friend’s relatives as if they were his own. Only 
then can he claim to be a distinguished scholar in the empire. Conse- 
quently, when on his way home he sees his friend hungering he feeds 
him, he clothes him when he is cold, nurses him when he is sick, and 
cares for his burial when he is dead. Such are the words and such are 
the deeds of the philosopher of unity.’’" 

The difference between the views of Confucius and those of 
Me Ti may be formulated thus. For Confucius the criterion 

*Forke, Me Ti dee Socialeihikers und seiner Schuelet philosophische 
Werke, p. 242; Legge, Chinese Classics, Vol. II, p. 102. 

“Forke, p. 255; Legge, 110. The translations in the text are from the 
German of Forke. The word friend in the paragraph quoted is to be under- 
stood in the same sense as neighbor in the Gospels, namely, as one who 
needs our help. This fact comes out clearly in a passage which follov^, 
Forke, p. 257; Legge, p. 111. The astonishing rejemblance of the passage 
cited to St. Matthew XXV : 34, ff, together with the equally striking differ- 
ences, will not escape the attention of the reader. 



338 


ETHICS 


of a right action is the aim to produce some good for someone. 
In the event of a conflict of interests, the good of the nearer and 
the good of the more excellent, generally speaking, have, as such, 
a claim superior to that of the greater good. The position of 
Me Ti, on the other hand is that always and everywhere that 
action is right which aims at the maximum attainable good for 
all concerned. Modern Universalistic Utilitarianism, arguing 
along lines suggested in Chapter XIV above, recognizes the pri- 
ority of the claims of the family and of excellence in so far as it 
can be derived as a corollary from the supreme standard. This 
corollary Me Ti accepts in its relation to excellence but not in its 
application to the family. For him my duty to my own father 
and my duty to the father of my neighbor are identical in 
content and imperativeness. 


Jesus 

Five hundred years pass and the scene changes to the shores 
of the Mediterranean. There arises a greater than Confucius or 
Me Ti. But as far as the foundations of the moral life are con- 
cerned Jesus conceives of them in the same way as these Chinese 
sages, and uses, to a large extent, essentially the same language. 
The Confucian formula for what the translator calls “reciprocity*' 
becomes the golden rule in the positive form with which we are 
all familiar. With Me Ti all morality is explicitly reduced to 
love, love for God and love for man; and the same measure of 
love is set in the words: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy- 
self.” Any man whom we can help, whatever his race, is our 
neighbor; and we may not injure him in a spirit of retaliation 
under any conceivable conditions.^^ 

It will be claimed by some that Jesus should be classed with 
those who, like Aristotle, hold that the rules of morality are 
determined, in part at least, by the intrinsic value of character. 
As evidence for this assertion will be offered the demand for 
purity of heart, freedom from anger, and the like, over and 
above mere abstinence from overt harmful action. To this I 
reply in the first place that purity of heart and the love of 

M<Uthew XXII: 35-40; c/. St. Paul in Romans XIII: 8, 9, and 
Galatians V : 14. 



TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 339 

one's neighbor which casts out anger may be valued for their 
effects upon conduct as well as for themselves (see above Chap- 
ter VI, page 99, f.). In the second place, the point in dispute 
between Universalistic Utilitarianism and such a theory as Aris- 
totle's is not whether character has an intrinsic value, for as 
we have seen many Utilitarians believe it has; the real ques- 
tion is whether, in a valid judgment, the rightness of an act is 
always determined by the relation of the act, as a means, to 
the good of those affected, as an end. I should hold that Con- 
fucius' formula, which says, in principle, look solely to the 
effects upon the welfare of those affected, definitely places the 
Chinese sage inside the boundaries of Utilitarianism. But the 
Confucian rule and the golden rule are in this respect identical; 
therefore the inclusion of the former carries with it the inclusion 
of the latter. 

The Meaning or Right in Oriental Universalism 

The Oriental moralists, like the Greek, had no formulated 
theory of the meaning of right or the source of moral distinctions. 
The reason may well have been the same in each case. Moral 
reformers like Confucius and Jesus would have an obvious prac- 
tical interest in formulating the criterion of right conduct. They 
would also realize the importance of discovering and, as it were, 
isolating, the fundamental moral motive, in order that they 
might know what they could appeal to. Their interest in the 
theory of ethics did not extend beyond these lines, and accord- 
ingly, as with Aristotle, we are left to conjecture when we 
attempt to construct a rounded system out of the isolated frag- 
ments in our hands. Confucius probably (as his great disciple, 
Mencius, certainly) placed the fundamental moral motive in 
sympathy or perhaps altruism; Me Ti and Jesus in what they 
(or their translators) called “love.” This seems to commit them 
to some form of what I have called “Voluntarism.” But beyond 
this point it is idle to attempt to penetrate. 

Richard Cumberland 

A variety of causes united to prevent the Universalism of 
Jesus from obtaining acceptance in its integrity and entirety 



340 


ETHICS 


by the Christian moralists of the following centuries. We can, 
however, trace the development of a movement in this direction 
through a series of approximations until it was finally formu- 
lated with all but complete definiteness, and with a fairly ade- 
quate recognition of the imderlying assumptions, by Richard 
Cumberland in The Laws of Nature published in 1672.^® 

The sum of the moral law is declared to be “the endeavor 
to the utmost of our power of promoting the common good of 
the whole system of rational agents;” while “the utmost of our 
power” is explained by the statement: “Effecting the greatest 
good is the greatest end prescribed by reason.” The possibility 
of comparing goods and evils and of conceiving a “sum of goods” 
is explicitly asserted (Ch. II, sec. iv, p. 101; Ch. V, sec. xvi, 
p. 213; c/. Ch. V, sec. xix, p. 220). And a beginning is made 
towards showing how the requirements of the maximum attain- 
able amount of happiness call for special duties such as those 
to one’s children, and special privileges with their correlative 
rights and duties, as in the matter of private property.* 
Rationalism and Utilitarianism are persistently treated as if 
they were antithetical, so that to belong to one school is to be 
excluded from the other. But this conception is thoroughly mis- 
taken. Theories of the moral judgment, as I pointed out in the 
last Chapter (p. 305) , may be regarded from two points of view. 
They may be classified first according to their conception of 
the nature of the standard; and secondly according to their 
theory of the source of the standard. The latter theories, as I 
have also pointed out, may be divided into two classes which 
may be called Rationalism and Voluntarism. 

If we understand the meaning of our terms, then, we shall 
have no difficulty in conceiving a Utilitarianism which is also 
a Rationalism. And as if to prove to all the world the possibility 
of such a combination, the earliest full-fledged Utilitarian in the 
history of modern ethics has a theory of the source of moral 
distinctions which is the very quintessence of Rationalism. For 
one of the characteristic features of Cumberland’s system is the 
” Cumberland wrote in Latixi, and his book bore the title De Legibus 
NaiurcB, The quotations which follow are from the English translation 
made by John Maxwell, and published in London, 1727. 

*See Notes, XVII, ^^Richard Cumberland,’’ page 516. 



341 


TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 

attempt to exhibit the standard of right as a product of the logi- 
cal principle of contradiction. His formula for the standard has 
just been given. What then, is the connection between the law 
of contradiction and “the endeavor, to the utmost of our power, 
to promote the common good of the whole system of rational 
agents?^' Cumberland holds, in the first place, that where choice 
is necessary, and where the good of other persons is not con- 
cerned, reason requires us to choose our own greater good in 
preference to our less. To do otherwise would, in his eyes, be 
equivalent to aflSrming that the greater is less than the less. But 
the mind “is inconsistent with itself when it determines to act 
after one manner in relation to itself, and after another manner 
in relation to others that partake of the same nature.*^ When 
he says “inconsistent,” he conceives himself to be saying “guilty 
of self-contradiction,” for he treats these two terms as iden- 
tical.^® Hence, the following is, for him, but another way of 
reasserting the same statement: “As 'tis a perfection of the 
human mind to form like judgments, so it is to entertain like 
affections concerning like things. To have contrary judgments 
of like things implies a contradiction, and is a kind of madness, 
and, in speculation, is shunned as a disease of the mind. In 
practice it argues as great an imperfection, and is a direct 
contradiction, in cases perfectly alike to have different judg- 
ments and different volitions, according as myself or another 
is concerned.” 

Cumberland's argument seems to me just to graze one of the 
most important truths which ethics has given to the world. This 
is the proposition: Whatever reasons there are for approving 
my choice of my own greater good in preference to my less, 
precisely these same reasons hold for the approbation of the 
choice of the greater good of another in preference to the less 
good of self. To approve the former and not the latter is an in- 
consistency in judgment, and to act on the former and refuse to 
act upon the latter is an inconsistency in conduct.^^ Cumberland, 
however, confused the concepts of the inconsistent and the con- 

”Op. dt., I, vi, 4; cf. V, xiv, 2. 

”See for example op. dt., V, xxi, 2. 

*• Op. cit., V, xvi, 6. 

” Cf. below. Chapter XXIH, p. 483. 



342 


ETHICS 


tradictory. This identification can not be maintained. To accept 
contradictions is to believe differently about the same thing, 
while the pursuit of the inconsistent involves feeling and desir- 
ing differently about the same thing. The former is absolutely 
impossible when the contradictoriness of the two propositions 
is clearly perceived. The latter is unfortunately quite possible, 
even when vision of the situation is most complete. Cumber- 
land's theory, then, seems to me one which we can not accept 
as it stands, but one from which we can learn a great deal of 
the first importance. 


Henry Sidgwick 

Almost exactly two hundred years after the publication of 
Cumberland's Laws of Nature, appeared a second attempt to 
exhibit the standard of Universalistic Utilitarianism as a product 
of intuitive reason. The modern system seems to me to have, 
on the whole, more affinities with Whewell than it has with 
Cumberland. The denial of the superior claims of the greater 
good is indeed tentatively treated as a breach of the principle 
of contradiction; but in the last analysis the reigning concep- 
tion seems to be that of a system of intuitions, discovered as 
Whewell supposed the mathematician discovers the axioms of 
his science. These intuitions are formulated by Sidgwick as 
follows. Justice; *Tt can not be right for A to treat B in a 
manner in which it would be wrong for B to treat A, merely on 
the ground that they are two different individuals, and without 
there being any difference between the natures or circumstances 
of the two which can be stated as a reasonable ground for differ- 
ences of treatment.” Prudence: smaller present good [of 

self] is not to be preferred to a greater future good” — allowing 
of course for differences in certainty. Benevolence: *^Each one 
is morally bound to regard the good of any other individual as 
much as his own, except in so far as he judges it to be less, when 
impartially viewed, or less certainly knowable or attainable by 
him.”'* The third rule means that we ought always to prefer 

• The Methods of Ethics, Book IV, Ch. ii. 

^ The Methods of Ethics, 7th Edition, 1907, Book m, Ch. xiii, sec. 3. 



TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 343 

the greater good of another or others to the less good of 
self. 

These principles of conduct, I can not but believe, are in- 
capable of supplying an intuitive code of duty in the sense in 
which Sidgwick or any other Rationalist would interpret the 
term intuitive. That is to say, they can not pass the tests which 
Sidgwick has himself laid down to enable us to distinguish be- 
tween genuine axioms and mere pretenders to that title.*® In 
the first place the formula for justice is obviously merely a 
replica of Kant’s categorical imperative. It says: What is right 
for one is right for everyone else under essentially the same con- 
ditions. But as we saw above this is no part of the standard 
of right; it is simply an element in the definition of the term. 
In other words it does not direct me what to do, but merely 
tells me that after I have discovered my duty I may be certain 
it will be identical with the duty of everyone else who is simi- 
larly circumstanced. As to the second axiom, I can not convince 
myself that injury to one’s personal interests, where other per- 
sons are supposed not to be concerned, is universally regarded 
by the lay conscience as wrong. If the conclusions of Chapter 
VII of this book are valid, we do wrong ourselves when we choose 
the less good for self rather than the greater. But I should assert 
this as a conclusion derived from an analysis of the logical 
implications of the moral judgment, rather than as an immedi- 
ate or unreasoned deliverance of the moral consciousness of 
the race. However this may be, the third principle, which covers 
all our duties to others, is certainly not one that conforms to 
the test that an axiom “must command universal assent on the 
part of those who understand [its] meaning.” As a matter of 
fact the great majority of the race, including civilized and 
primitive man alike, believe that under certain circumstances 
the good of the nearer or the good of the more excellent has the 
primacy over the greater good; and wherever tribal morality 
flourishes the good of those outside the tribal pale simply counts 
for the most part as zero. Add to this the absolutely contradic- 
tory attitudes taken by different persons toward revenge — a fact 
• See above, Chapter XVI, page 313. 



344 


ETHICS 


which Sidgwick quite ignores — and the conclusion seems unes- 
capable that all attempts to represent the principles of Uni- 
versalistic Utilitarianism as the utterances of pure reason have 
failed in the past and appear to be doomed to a like fate in 
the future. 


Shaptbsbuby 

Voluntarism, as we have seen, is the theory that moral judg- 
ments have their source in some element or elements of the will. 
Egoistic Utilitarianism, ancient and modern, holds this view 
quite unambiguously; moral distinctions owe their existence to 
desire — ^the desire, namely, for one’s own pleasure. As I have 
suggested, this view of the relation of desire to the moral ideal 
seems to be implicit in all the other ancient theories, whether of 
Greece or Asia, however radically they may have differed from 
each other in their account of the object of the desire. 

Modern Voluntarism of the Universalistic type begins with 
the Earl of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury’s position is apparently 
derived from Aristotle with a certain twist of its own. But this 
twist, like the distance separating two rain drops at the crest of 
a watershed, makes an enormous difference in the termini of 
the two systems. 

Aristotle, we remember, declares that morality represents a 
mean between two extremes. There is on the one hand rashness 
and on the other cowardice. Courage is a mean between the two. 
Again, gentleness is the mean between the excesses of an uncon- 
trolled anger and the deficiencies attendant upon a want of 
spirit. The proper balance between these two is recognized in- 
fallibly by the moral connoisseur, and appeals to him for the 
most part as beautiful. 

This represents Shaftesbury’s position with two important 
differences. He rejects entirely the permissibility of any form 
of malevolence; and he finds morality to consist invariably in a 
proper balance of what he regards as the two other master im- 
pulses of human nature, ^'public affections and private affec- 
tions,” of as we should say, egoism and altruism. “Public 
affections” arc usually too weak and “private affections” too 
strong; but “public affections may be too strong and private too 



345 


TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 

weak.”*^ Right action consists in the maintenance of a proper 
balance between the two. 

Thus is Shaftesbury led to Universalistic Utilitarianism. The 
implication throughout seems to be that the “proper” balance 
represents such a relationship between egoism and altruism as 
will contribute most completely to the good of all concerned.” 
But this is nowhere stated in so many words. 

For Aristotle a proper balance of impulses ordinarily produces 
beauty. This is precisely Shaftesbury's position if for “ordi- 
narily” you read “always.” 

"The mind, which is spectator or auditor of other minds, can not 
be without its eye and ear; so as to discern proportion, distinguish 
sound, and scan each sentiment or thought which comes before it. . . 
[It] finds a foul and fair, a harmonious and a dissonant as really and 
truly here as in any musical numbers, or in the outward forms or repre- 
sentations of sensible things. Nor can it withhold its admiration and 
ecstasy, its aversion and scorn, any more in what relates to one than 
to the other of these subjects. So that to deny the common and natural 
sense of a sublime and beautiful in things, will appear an affectation 
merely, to any one who considers duly of this affair.”* 

This sesthetic element in morality is not a by-product, it is 
the very center of the moral experience. For “virtue is no other 
than the love of order and beauty in society.*^ This means that 
where the mind finds in an action a certain relation between 
egoism and altruism, namely that proportion which makes for 
the good of the whole organism of which the individual is a 
part, it experiences an emotion of the beautiful which constitutes 
moral approbation. 

It is this reaction in the way of a feeling of aesthetic apprecia- 
tion that constitutes man a moral being in the strict sense of 
the term. A creature possessed of no other volitional equipment 
than egoism and altruism, however perfectly balanced they were, 
might be called a good creature but not a moral one. Moral 
conduct, properly so called, is that which is motivated in part 

“""Inquiry concerning Virtue or Merit,” Book II, Part I, sec. iii; in 
Characteriaiics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, 6th Edition, 1732, Vol. 
II, pp. 87-97. 

•See op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 31, 77, 91 fif. 

•Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 29. 

•Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 76. 



346 


ETHICS 


at least, by love for the beauty inherent in the harmonious play 
of the personal and social elements of the will. 

The ethical views of Shaftesbury, detached, casual, incom- 
plete, sketchy, represent the work of a gentleman of leisure who 
is interested not in creating a system but rather in meditating, 
as he felt disposed, upon the relation of religion and morality, 
the compatibility of virtue with individual happiness, and the 
existence of a philosophical basis for religious belief. Such con- 
tributions as he made to ethics appear for the most part in the 
course of the treatment of these or related topics. He was fol- 
lowed by a man who was a university professor all his active 
life, and who attempted to systematize Shaftesbury’s apercus, 
work them out to their logical conclusion, and form them into a 
consistent whole. This man was Francis Hutcheson. 

Francis Hutcheson 

The fundamental difference between Hutcheson and Shaftes- 
bury is that the former supposes the reaction which is the source 
of the moral judgment to be aroused not by a balance between 
egoism and altruism, but solely by the latter. Therewith disap- 
pears the fiesthetic factor of the earlier system. Moral distinc- 
tions have their source not in admiration but in “approbation.” 
If we inquire what the nature of this state may be we learn 
only that it has a pleasurable quality; in fact to approve 
conduct seems to be defined merely as finding pleasure in con- 
templating it. The inner side of the moral judgment is thus 
differently conceived in the two systems, and apparently there 
is an equally striking difference in their doctrine of the standard. 
The latter, however, is not the case. Each writer gives precisely 
the same answer to the question. What kinds of action are right 
or wrong? For while, according to Hutcheson, merely egoistic 
action can arouse no moral approbation, nevertheless a man is 
justified in regarding his own good as having equal claims upon 
him with that of anyone else where the amount, objectively 
appraised, is the same. All this is taken up into his formula for 
the standard, which is one of the most celebrated in the history 



TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 347 

of ethics. That action, he holds, is best which procures the 
greatest happiness for the greatest numbers.** 

David Hume 

Certain serious difficulties readily suggest themselves in con- 
sidering the preceding views. Some of the more important are 
as follows: 

1. Moral judgments are not, as Shaftesbury believes, always 
aesthetic in nature. Indeed most of them are passed without any 
suggestion of beauty appearing in the mind. This is true, for 
example, of our judgments upon ordinary acts of honesty and 
faithfulness to promises. 

2. Moral judgments do not necessarily involve a process of 
balancing one spring of action against another on the part of the 
agent. He may quite literally forget self and its interests in some 
overwhelming concern for a fellow-man who needs his help. Or, 
if he is properly trained, he may tell the truth without any 
thought of its harmful consequences to himself. On the other 
hand he may destroy others out of sheer malice without any 
particular thought of the satisfaction he will get out of it. This 
latter case, to be sure, Shaftesbury thinks he has provided for 
by declaring that all malevolent desire is an object of universal 
disapprobation. But if this statement is to include the impulse 
to revenge it simply is not true. 

3. As against Hutcheson it may be urged that the place of 
^^approbation” in his system is equivocal. It is formally identi- 
fied with pleasure. But pleasure never appears in consciousness 
alone, nor, apparently, in connection with bare ideas;** so that 
there is no analogy anywhere in human life to its alleged arousal 
by the idea of a certain kind of action. Phenomena without 
analogy, like principles, are not to be multiplied beyond neces- 
sity. If it can be shown that all the facts are explicable upon 
the hypothesis that the benevolence which serves as the motive 
of a good act is also the source of that satisfaction with the 

^Inquiry Concerning the Original of Our Ideas of Virtue or Moral 
Good, pp. 169, 170, 180-182. 

“See below. Chapter xix, page 395. 



348 


ETHICS 


volition whicH we denominate approbation, then there is no 
necessity for a theory which finds the source of moral distinc- 
tions in a bare feeling of pleasure, or, for that matter, in an 
emotion sui generis, as Hutcheson is by some persons supposed 
to have taught. 

The place of the greatest representative of this school, David 
Hume, in the development of Voluntarism is to be found pre- 
cisely at this point. He accepted the Universalistic Utilitarianism 
of his predecessors. But he saw that to a being possessed of an 
interest in the welfare of his fellow men, the will of A to serve 
B must be a cause of satisfaction. And he believed he could 
explain all the facts by identifying this satisfaction with moral 
approbation. 

The source of the moral judgment, according to Hume, is to 
be found in a direct concern for the good of others which arouses 
in the judge a feeling of satisfaction at an action directed toward 
this end, and a consequent feeling of gratitude or affection 
toward the agent. Our desires for the good of others are appar- 
ently regarded as always the product of special stimulants. 
These may be, on one hand, ties of blood, affection, gratitude, 
or admiration; on the other, the workings of the imagination. 
Altruism stimulated by the imagination, Hume commonly calls 
‘^sympathy.” The first named stimulants produce only a per- 
sonal interest in particular individuals here and there. Sympathy 
alone is impersonal and catholic. Accordingly it is to sympathy, 
as just defined, that our moral judgments are declared to be due. 

To this view of the source of moral distinctions there is an 
obvious objection. It is stated by Hume as follows: 

"As this sympathy is very variable, it may be thought that our senti- 
ments of morals must admit of all the same variations. We sympathise 
more with persons contiguous to us than with persons remote from 
us; with our acquaintances than with strangers; with our countrymen, 
than with foreigners. But notwithstanding this variation of our sym- 
pathy, we give the same approbation to the same moral qualities in 
China as in England. They appear equally virtuous, and recommend 
themselves equally to the esteem of a judicious spectator. The sym- 
pathy varies without a variation in our esteem. Our esteem, therefore, 
proceeds not from sympathy.”* 

* Tfeatise, Book II, Part HI, sec. I ; Green and Grose Edition, Vol. H., 
p. 340; Selby-Bigge Edition, p. 580. 



TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 349 

The reply takes the form of a further definition or limitation 
of the meaning of right. The predicate right does not cover 
eve^thing that happens to appeal to the passing sympathy of 
the moment; nor does it fail to include forms of good that may 
happen to leave our feelings cold. The play of sympathy is 
affected, as Hume has shown in various places, by our relation- 
ships to the persons concerned, our distance from them in time 
and space, the nature and limitations of our own past experi- 
ence, the efficiency of the working of the imagination, familiarity, 
and the preoccupations or humors of the hour. When we call an 
action right we suppose ourselves to have abstracted from these 
conditions, that is to say from all the accidental relationships 
of the action in question to self, whatever their nature. 

is every sentiment of pleasure or pain which arises from char- 
acters and actions, of that peculiar kind, which makes us praise or 
condemn. The good qualities of an enemy are hurtful to us ; but may 
still command our esteem and respect. ’Tis only when a character is 
considered in general, without reference to our particular interest, 
that it causes such a feeling or sentiment, as denominates it morally 
good or evil.”** 

The moral judgment is the judgment of the impersonal 
spectator. 

In the Treatise the moral judgment (as just defined) and the 
vocabulary to which it gives rise is represented as a device 
whereby we find a common means of communication with others ; 
just as we more or less arbitrarily fix upon one visual size or 
shape as the “real’^ one, and thereafter use this as a standard of 
reference. This point of view reappears in the Enquiry P But 
the Enquiry also presents a far more adequate conception. 

‘The distinction between these species of sentiments [‘humanity^ 
and egoism] being so great and evident, language must soon be 
moulded upon it, and must invent a peculiar set of terms, in order 
to express those universal sentiments of censure or approbation, 
which arise from humanity, or from views of general usefulness 
and its contrary.”** 

^Treatise, Book IH, Part I, sec. II; G. II., p. 248; S.-B., p. 472. 

‘•Treatise, Book III, Part III, sec. I; G., 341; S.-B., 681. Enquiry c(m- 
ceming the Principles of Morals, Sec. V., part ii. ; Green and Grose Edition 
of Hume’s Essays, Vol. II., p. 214 f; Selby-Bigge Edition of the Enquiries, 
p. 227 f. 

•®Sec. ix, part i.; Green and Grose, Essays, II., 248 ff.; Selby-Bigge, 
F-nquiries, 271 ff; of. Treatise, Book III, Part I, sec. ii.; G. II., 248; S.-B., 
472. 



350 


ETHICS 


In other words there being in fact two attitudes towards 
human conduct, the personal and the impersonal, the latter as 
well as the former will create forms for expressing itself in 
language. 

It will be apparent that the preceding is nothing more nor 
less than the definition of right presented in Chapter VII of this 
book. The latter was, as a matter of fact, derived precisely from 
this source. 

Objectivity in Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Hume 

Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Hume were regarded by the 
Rationalists of their day as Subjectivists. Each believed in ob- 
jectivity, however, as firmly as any Rationalist.®^ They are thus 
as much entitled to the name of “Objectivists^^ as any of their 
opponents. If it be claimed that, as a matter of fact, they did 
not succeed in proving the objectivity of moral distinctions, it 
is possible to counter with the assertion that the Voluntarists 
did not believe the Rationalists to have proved it either. A 
school of thought must in fairness be classified with reference to 
its own beliefs and not in accordance with its opponents^ opinions 
as to its success or failure in demonstrating them. Accordingly 
the term Subjectivist, applied to these men, is a misnomer, if 
not a libel. 

All three of these writers worked out a theory of the causes 
of the actual divergences of moral judgments which was intended 
to exhibit the essential superficiality of these variations, and 
the possibility of uniting a frank recognition of their existence 
with a firm conviction of the fundamental identity of the moral 
consciousness of the race. Shaftesbur>% as usual, makes no at- 
tempt to offer anything better than a few scattered suggestions. 
His most important contribution to the subject is contained in 

“Shaftesbury, Characteristicks, Vol. II, pp. 36, 43; Vol. Ill, p. 303. 
Hutcheson, ‘Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of ^auty and Virtue,” 
4th Edition, 1738,” Treatise II, Sec. 4, i and ii, pp. 200<203; “Essay on 
the Nature and Conduct of the Passions,” 3rd Edition, 1742, Treatise II, 
Sec. I, p. 236; Ibid,, Sec. IV, p. 280; Moral Philosophy, Vol. I, p. 24 and 
following. Hume, Treatise, B<Mk III, Part I, sec. ii; G. II, 250; S.-B., 474; 
Ibid,, Part III, sec. vi, G. II, 373; S.-B., 620. 



TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 351 

the following words: “Whatever causes a misconception or mis- 
apprehension of the worth or value of any object, so as to 
diminish a due, or raise any undue, irregular, or unsocial affec- 
tion, must necessarily be the occasion of wrong.” “ This prin- 
ciple seems to be an adumbration of the principle of objective 
valuation as stated in Chapter VIII above. But according to 
his wont, Shaftesbury leaves it undeveloped, as well as, in the 
main, unused. Failure to evaluate properly, however, he at- 
tributes to two causes: (1) The dust which selfishness and anger 
throw into our eyes; and (2) the influence exerted by authority 
as made known by the voice of public opinion or God.®* 

Hutcheson, equally convinced of the existence of objectivity 
in morals, is distinctly more systematic and more concrete in 
his treatment of the subject.** He finds the principal grounds 
for diversity in moral judgments to be the following. (1) “Differ- 
ent opinions of happiness or natural good, and of the most 
effectual means to advance it.” The latter applies to outer 
morality only, as Hutcheson must have known, for he was very 
insistent upon the distinction between this and inner morality. 
The former, as his own words indicate, is a difference in judg- 
ments of good rather than of right. I have referred to this sub- 
ject in Chapter XI, above, when discussing the causes of the 
differences between primitive and civilized marriage codes. We 
shall return to it in Chapter XXI. 

2. The use of the principle that the less excellent have either 
less claims than other people or none at all. He recognizes cor- 
rectly the part this plays in the creation of tribal morality, and 
supposes its employment is due to a mistaken calculation of 
utility; it being “regular and beautiful, to have stronger benevo- 
lence toward the morally good parts of mankind, who are useful 
to the whole, than towards the useless or pernicious.” 

^Characteristics, Vol. II, p. 33. 

"For the first see op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 30, 44, 52, 62-63; cf. Vol. Ill, 
pp. 303-305. For the second see Vol. II, pp. 47-49, 64. 

"“Inquiry,” Tueatise II, Sec. 4, p. 200 ff; Sec. 7, xii, p. 301; “Conduct 
of the Passions,” Treatise I, Sec. IV, p. 106; Treatise II, Sec. I, p. 236; 
Sec. rV, p. 280. Moral Philosophy, Vol. I, p. 89 ff. 

"“Inquiry,” p. 209. 



352 


ETHICS 


3. Differences of opinion as to the will of God. 

It might be supposed that Hume, coming as he did after 
Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, would offer a more complete and 
illuminating account of the variations in moral judgment than 
either of his predecessors; and that, with his conception of the 
meaning of right, he would see the relationship of these varia- 
tions to the possibility of a universally valid code. He recognizes 
unequivocally that morality is a matter of motives or charac- 
ter;®® and, as we remember, he knows that right means the 
desires or approvals of an impersonal judge. In one place he 
aflSrms the superior claim of the greater good of self over that of 
a smaller good the enjoyment of which is less remote in time; ®^ 
and in other places he applies the principle underlying this dic- 
tum to the relation between the good of self and others.®® He 
states clearly the principle of the good of the nearer in its appli- 
cation to moral judgments, and declares it invalid because a case 
of “partiality and unequal affection.” ®® He is aware of the 
existence of the judgments that directly approve preferential 
treatment of the meritorious and the infliction of suffering upon 
the evil doer, although he expresses no opinion as to their correct- 
ness.®® Here is practically all the material needed for solving the 
problem of objectivity. As a matter of fact, in his one systematic 
discussion of the subject he turns his back upon it completely and 
resolves all differences of moral judgment into differences of 
opinion as to the effects of conduct upon happiness, that is to 
say, into differences in judgments of outer rightness.®^ This is an 
extraordinary instance of a man holding all the cards and failing 
to play them in the game he was making every effort to win. The 
explanation, I suppose, must be found in his entire history as a 
writer on ethics. But whatever the explanation, the facts them- 

- Treatise, Book III, Part II, sec. i; G. 252-3; S.-B. pp. 477-478. Ibid., 
Part I, sec. ii; G. 247-248; S.-B. pp. 471-472. 

"Part II, sec. vii; G. II 301-302; S.-B. 536. 

^Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Sec. Ill, part i., Essays 
G. Vol. II, page 180; Enquiries S.-B. 184. “Es^y on Suicide,” Essays, 
Green and Grose ed., Vol. II, p. 413 Compare also Treatise, Book III, 
Part II, sec. vii; G. 300; S.-B. 5^. 

^Treatise, Part II, sec. 2; G. 261-2 S.-B. 488-9; c/. Part III, sec. 1; 
G. II, 341-342; S.-B. 682-683. 

•Part III, sec. i; G. II, 349; S.-B. 691. 

®* In the essay entitled, ”A Dialogue.” 



TYPES OF UTILITARIANISM 353 

selves must ever remain surprising. It has been the central aim 
of this book to bring together in systematic form the data sup- 
plied by this great man and use them to illumine and, if it may 
be, solve the ancient problem of the objectivity of moral dis- 
tinctions. 




Booh II 


THE GOOD 




Chapteb XVIII 

THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 

Ethics, as we saw in Chapter I, deals with two concepts, the 
right and the good. Having considered the more important prob- 
lems of right, we turn to those of the good. 

This subject may be treated in either of two ways. A definition 
of good may be obtained through analysis and then used to 
determine what it is which makes an experience good. Or a 
survey of the significant features of life may be made for the 
purpose of discovering which of them are best worth pursuing, 
without stopping to inquire precisely what it is which gives them 
their value. I shall employ the first method in the two following 
Chapters, and the second in the present one. 

In this more general discussion I intend to leave the reader as 
free as possible from the burden of definitions, but a few, un- 
fortunately, are indispensable. Good as applied to an experience 
or state of consciousness, means that it is valuable or worth 
having. This statement will serve our present purposes with- 
out further refinements. But it is quite necessary to bear in mind 
one distinction already made (Chapter X, page 166), namely 
that between extrinsic (or “instrumental”) and intrinsic good- 
ness, between what is good, or valuable, as a means and what is 
good as an end in itself. The possession of money is an example 
of the former; the enjoyment of a beautiful landscape, of the 
latter. Many things, of course, are both, as health or friends. 
We shall here confine our attention exclusively to the good in 
itself; and we shall deal with such goods as health only from 
the side of their intrinsic value. 

The Need for Reflection upon Values 

The need of reflection as to what are the best things of life is 
perhaps even more imperative than reflection about what actions 
are right or wrong. With regard to the latter we can ordinarily 

357 



368 


ETHICS 


avail ourselves of an ancient, comprehensive, and widely recog- 
nized tradition. This is indeed far from complete; and at 
many points it is vague, confused, and self-contradictory. But it 
is sound and clear in its utterances as far as most of the funda- 
mentals are concerned. On the other hand, the generally accepted 
views with regard to what is best worth seeking in life are to a 
large extent quite superficial and reek with error. Consider, for 
example, the crude conceptions current in American society about 
the value of those things which can be obtained only through the 
possession of wealth. We try to teach the young what is right 
and what is wrong, but seldom say anything to them about the 
distinction between real and delusory goods. Unlike the Greeks 
of the Periclean Age and their descendants, and the Romans of 
the imperial period, the need of any enlightenment on this sub- 
ject never seems to occur to us. 

Professor Huxley tells the story of a traveler who, brought to a 
halt at the crossroads and finding no signpost, is looking about 
for someone of whom he can ask the way. Presently he spies a 
man on horseback galloping towards him at breakneck speed. 
With some diflBculty he succeeds in bringing horse and rider to a 
standstill long enough to ask where the two roads lead, but is 
greeted upon each question with the answer: ‘*I^m sure I don’t 
know.” “But where are you going?” asks the traveler. Putting 
spurs to his horse, the rider, who of course is an Irishman, shouts 
back from out of the enveloping cloud of dust: 'T don’t know 
where I am going, but I am going at a divil of a pace.” This little 
tale pictures with essential accuracy a great part of contemporary 
American and European life. 

This indifference to the problem of values can not be justified 
by the existence in man of infallible powers of insight which 
enable him at a glance to distinguish between genuine happiness 
and its counterfeit. Thus it is commonly supposed that if any 
persons are favorites of fortune it must be the rich and those 
possessed of “position” in the business or social world. But this 
popular notion happens to be quite remote from the facts. “Posi- 
tion” with its attendant advantages is certainly no guarantee of 
happiness. The greatest and most admired actor that America 
has ever produced was Edwin Booth. He had the appreciation 



359 


THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 

of the public, both critical and uncritical, till he himself could 
say of his later years that they were “tediously successful.” Yet 
this is the way he felt about his life. In 1888, five years before 
his death, he wrote to his daughter: 

'"Dick Stoddard wrote a poem called The King's Bell/ which fits 
my case exactly. He dedicated it to Lorimer Graham, who never knew 
an unhappy day in his brief life, instead of to me, who never knew a 
really happy one. You must not suppose from this that Tm ill in mind 
or body; on the contrary, I am well enough in both; nor am I a pessi- 
mist. I merely wanted you to know that the sugar of my life is bitter- 
sweet; perhaps not more so than every man’s whose experience has 
been above and below the surface."* 

Power can not procure happiness. A few years before his death 
Bismarck said: “Seldom in my life have I been a happy man.” 
Still less can money make life worth living. Nathan Rothschild, 
W’ho died in 1860, possessed a fabulous fortune. “But with all his 
colossal wealth he was profoundly unhappy, and with sorrow^ful 
earnestness exclaimed to one congratulating him on the gorgeous 
magnificence of his palatial mansion and thence inferring he was 
happy: ‘Happy! Me happy!'”* 

These utterances do not prove that happiness is impossible. 
For each could be matched by one of the opposite tenor. Thus 
Benjamin Franklin, in the second paragraph of his Autobiog- 
raphy, writes: 

“This good fortune, when I reflect on it, which is frequently the case, 
has sometimes induced me to say that if I were left to my choice 1 
should have no objection to go over the same life from its beginning 
to its end; requesting only the advantage authors have of correcting 
in a second edition the faults of the first. So would I also wish to 
change some incidents of it, for others more favorable. Notwithstanding, 
if this condition was denied, I should still accept the offer of recom- 
mencing the same life.” 

Franklin was so exceptional a man and had so exceptional a 
career that his testimony may possibly be regarded as unin- 
structive. But witnesses innumerable to the same faith could 
easily be brought together, if necessary, ranging from rich to 


C. T. Copeland, Edu>in Booth, p. 160. 

William Mathews, Getting on in the WoM, p. 282. 



360 


ETHICS 


poor, famous to obscure, gifted to commonplace. No one, per- 
haps, ever expressed this attitude towards life with more de- 
lightful naivet6 than the good old merchant Peter Cooper, the 
founder of Cooper Union in New York. When asked by a 
friend about his belief in immortality, he replied: 

sometimes think that if one has too good a time here below there 
is less reason for him to go to Heaven. I have had a very good time, 
but I know poor creatures whose lives have been spent in a constant 
Struggle for existence. They should have some reward hereafter. . . The 
only doubts that I have about the future are whether I have not had 
too good a time on earth.”* 

We can thus find the happy and the unhappy alike in every 
social stratum; and, I may add, in not far from the same pro- 
portions. If so, position in the sense of superiority to other people, 
and wealth, are peripheral values. The central values, on the 
other hand, those which make a man wish, as he looks back 
over the road he has been traveling, “to go over the same life 
from its beginning to its end,” are of a very different nature. 

Why Business and Social Position Abb Disappointing 

Why business and social position are disappointing has been 
so admirably set forth by the eighteenth century moralist, Wil- 
liam Paley, that I am going to borrow his statement of the 
subject as it stands. Paley was not a great man. But he had 
unusual opportunities of knowing all grades of the English 
society of his day; and he possessed a keen eye and a humane 
spirit. His thesis is that happiness does not consist in “great- 
ness, rank, or elevated station.” He attempts to prove this 
proposition by showing, first, that the pleasures of superiority 
are open on equal terms to the members of every class in the 
community; and second, that these pleasures are well-nigh worth- 
less. 


“Were it true that all superiority afforded pleasure, it would follow, 
that, by how much we were the greater, that is, the more persons we 
were superior to, in the same proportion, so far as depended upon this 
cause, we should be the happier; but so it is, that no superiority yields 
any satisfaction, save that which we possess or obtain over those with 
whom we immediately compare oursdves. The shepherd perceives no 

* Parton, Captains of Industry, Ser. I, p. 831. 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 361 

pleasure in his superiority over his dog; the farmer in lus superiority 
over the shepherd; the lord in his superiority over the farmer; nor 
the king, lastly, in his superiority over the lord. Superiority, where 
there is no competition, is seldom contemplated; what most men indeed 
are quite unconscious of. 

''But if the same shepherd can run, fight or wrestle better than the 
peasants of his village; if the farmer can show better cattle, if he keep 
a better horse, or be supposed to have a longer purse than any farmer 
in the hundred; if the lord have more interest in an election, greater 
favor at court, a better house, or larger estate, than any nobleman 
in the county; if the king possess a more extensive territory, a more 
powerful fleet or army, a more splendid establishment, more loyal sub- 
jects, or more weight and authority in adjusting the affairs of nations, 
than any prince in Europe; in all these cases the parties feel an actual 
satisfaction in their superiority. 

"Now the conclusion that follows from hence is this — that the 
pleasures of ambition, which are supposed to be peculiar to high sta- 
tions, are in reality common to all conditions. The farrier who shoes 
a horse better, and who is in greater request for skill than any man 
within ten miles of him, possesses, for all that I can see, the delight 
of distinction and of excelling as truly and substantially as the states- 
man, the soldier, and the scholar, who have filled Europe with the 
reputation of their wisdom, their valor, or their knowledge. 

"No superiority appears to be of any account but superiority over 
a rival. This, it is manifest, may exist wherever rivalships do; and 
rivalships fall out among men of all ranks and degrees. The object of 
emulation, the dignity or magnitude of this object, makes no difference; 
as it is not what either possesses that constitutes the pleasure, but 
what one possesses more than the other. 

"Our position is that happiness does not consist in greatness. And 
this position we make out by showing that even what are supposed 
to be the peculiar advantages of greatness, the pleasures of ambition 
and superiority, are in reality common to all conditions. But whether 
the pursuits of ambition be ever wise, whether they contribute more 
to the happiness or misery of the pursuers, is a different question; and 
a question concerning which we may be allowed to entertain great 
doubt. The pleasure of success is exquisite; so also is the anxiety of 
the pursuit, and the pain of disappointment — and what is the worst 
part of the account, the pleasure is short lived. We soon cease to look 
back upon those whom we have left behind; new contests are engaged 
in, new prospects unfold themselves; a succession of struggles is kept 
up whilst there is a rival left within the compass of our views and 
possession; and when there is none, the pleasure, with the pursuit, is 
at an end.”* 

Two problems, it will be remembered, are before us: The place 
of social position and of wealth in a satisfactory scheme of life. 

^Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, Book I, Ch. VI. 



362 


ETHICS 


The former, as we see, is a comparatively isolated and simple 
one. The latter, on the other hand, can only be discussed in the 
light of all the interests whose claims we are to assess. 1 shall 
therefore defer its treatment till the end of the Chapter. 

The Glow op Health 

In turning to the constructive task of attempting to enumerate 
and characterize the positive values of life I shall begin with 
one whose importance no one can deliberately deny, but whose 
significance and indeed existence are ignored in much of the 
literature of the subject. I shall call it provisionally a happy 
temperament. The term temperament is really indefinable, but 
happiness of temperament may be identified as unmotived ioy 
in living. He who possesses this gift in large measure need fear 
no foe. Sickness, poverty, loneliness, estrangement from friends, 
failure of ambition, all these and more may fall to his lot, and 
yet he will remain contented, cheerful, a lover of life, thankful 
for the past, and hopeful for the future. The wistful melancholy 
of Booth seems to have been chiefly a matter of temperament. 
The habitual optimism of Franklin would be regarded by many 
as a consequence of his uninterrupted success in attaining every- 
thing he set out to get. But this will not account for the presence 
of the same spirit in certain ordinary persons whom each of us 
knows, who have had very commonplace careers and a very small 
share of what are called the good things of life. 

The causes of temperament, whether joyous or melancholy, are 
to a considerable extent enveloped in obscurity. But I believe 
we know enough today to say it is dependent primarily, if not 
solely, upon the physical condition of the body. It is not, indeed, 
a function of health in the popular sense of the term, since an 
habitually melancholy man like Lincoln may turn off a tre- 
mendous amount of work in a life time; and a few invalids have 
been among the most cheerful of human beings. It seems rather 
to depend upon the condition of specific parts of the body, the 
most important of which are the blood, the heart, the organs of 
digestion and excretion, and the nervous system. We may take 
as an illustration the well-known case of Thomas Carlyle. 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 363 

From the time he was twenty-four till he was nearly sixty, 
Carlyle sufiFered with acute indigestion which not merely at times 
produced intense pain, but which threw over his life for this 
entire period a black pall of melancholy. Says one of his biograph- 
ers: 

"The melancholy, 'often as of deep misery frozen torpid' that runs 
through his writings, that makes him forecast death in life, and paint 
the springs of nature in winter lure, the 'hoarse sea,' the 'bleared skies,' 
the sunsets 'beautiful and brief and wae' [sad] compels our compassion 
in a manner quite different from the pictures of Sterne and other color 
dramatists, because we feel it as genuine as the melancholy of Burns 
. . . 'Look up there,' said Leigh Hunt, pointing to the starry skies, 
'look at that glorious harmony that sings with infinite voices an eternal 
song of hope in the soul of man.' 'Eh, it’s a sair sicht,' [sad sight] 
was the reply."* 

At the height of his success (1840, aged forty-five) Carlyle 
wrote: 'T shall never be other than ill, wearied, sick-hearted . . . 
bilious, heartless, and forlorn.” Seven years later he describes 
himself as afflicted with ‘'a huge nightmare of indigestion, in- 
somnia, and fits of black impatience with myself and others,-— 
self chiefly.” His biographer, Froude, can not understand it. 

"One asks with wonder why he found existence so intolerable. . . He 
was now successful far beyond his hopes. The fashionable world admired 
and flattered him. The cleverest men had recognized his genius, and 
accepted him as their equal or superior. He was listened to with respect 
by all; and, far more valuable to him, he was believed in by a fast 
increasing circle as a dear and honored teacher. His money anxieties 
were over. . . Why could not Carlyle, with fame and honor and troops 
of friends, and the gates of a great career thrown open before him, and 
a great intellect and a conscience untroubled by a single act which he 
need regret, bear and forget too? Why, indeed! The only answer is that 
Carlyle was Carlyle.” 

So much for the biographer. But Carlyle himself knew better; 
“I declare solemnly without exaggeration that I impute nine- 
tenths of my present wretchedness and rather more than nine- 
tenths of all my faults to this infernal disorder in the stomach.” 
In view of this statement of Carlyle's, of whose substantial truth 
there can be no doubt, it is not remarkable that DeQuincey, who 

■John Nichols, Thomas Carlyle, p. 158. 



364 ETHICS 

suffered in the same way from the same causes, should write as 
follows: 

‘The whole process and elaborate machinery of digestion are felt to 
be mean and humiliating when viewed in relation to our mere animal 
economy. But they rise into dignity and assert their own supreme 
importance when they are studied from another station, viz.y in relation 
to the intellect and temper. No man dares then to despise them. It is 
then seen that these functions of the human system form the essential 
basis upon which the strength and health of our higher nature repose, 
and that upon these functions chiefly the genial happiness of life is 
dependent. All the rules of prudence, or gifts of experience that life can 
accumulate, will never do as much for human comfort and welfare, 
as would be done by a stricter attention, and a wiser science, directed 
to the digestive system.”* 

In the case of Carlyle the symptoms were so definite that he 
could not doubt for a moment the existence of disease. But 
where the failure of the organs to do their work is less marked, 
the depression may appear without being attributed by the 
victim to physical causes. Amiel is an example. He was a pro- 
fessor of philosophy at Geneva who died some thirty years ago 
and left behind him a Journal intime which has been widely read 
and greatly admired. The book has a markedly pessimistic tone 
throughout. Amiel says that a wave of gloom came over him 
every day after dinner, and, after reaching its height by the 
middle of the afternoon, gradually passed away. No physician 
would have been in doubt for a moment as to the source of the 
'Vave.” 

It is less easy to prove that unmotived joy in living is a 
normal accompaniment of perfect health, because, for one reason, 
the existence of perfect health is doubtless today very rare and 
its presence is hard to demonstrate in any particular case. It is 
easy to show, however, that this state of the feelings can be 
produced by physical causes. It is a consequent, among other 
things, of breathing pure oxygen. It also appears in the first 
stages of intoxication by alcohol, opium, and haschisch. 

" ‘Under the influence of haschisch,* sa3rs Moreau, who "has studied 
it so well, ‘the feeling which is experienced is one of happiness. I mean 

*The above quotations, with the exception of the first, are from Bio- 
graphic Clinics {First /Series), by George M. Gould, M. D. 



365 


THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 

by this a state which has nothing in common with purely sensual 
pleasure. It is not the pleasure of the glutton or the drunkard, but 
is much more comparable to the joy of the miser, or that caused by 
good news.' I once knew well a man who for ten years constantly took 
haschisch in large doses; he withstood the drug better than might be 
expected, and finally died insane. I received his oral and written con- 
fidences, often to a greater extent than I desired. During this long 
period I have often noted his feelings of inexhaustible satisfaction, trans- 
lated now and again into strange inventions or commonplace reflec- 
tions, but in his opinion invaluable."’ 

Another illustration of this principle, not the result of borrow- 
ing from the resources of the body at frightful rates of interest, 
is the feeling of well-being which, in the person of average 
strength, follows vigorous bodily exercise. 

On the whole it seems safe to assert that unmotived joy in 
living has its source in the perfect operation of certain organs 
of the body. If so, we may term this form of good the glow 
of health. This nomenclature has the additional advantage of 
calling attention to the fact that high spirits may make their 
appearance for limited periods only. We should be violating 
linguistic usage if we referred such a state of mind to tempera- 
ment, for the latter is supposed to be relatively permanent. 
Nevertheless it is certainly a good as long as it lasts. Further- 
more in bringing into the foreground the healthy working of 
the bodily organs we suggest the possibility of a more effective 
control of the conditions of happiness in the future, through the 
progress of the sciences of hygiene and medicine, than has ever 
obtained in the past. 

The glow of health, like every other good thing, has its 
dangers. The man who is habitually in high spirits is apt to see 
everything through the rosy haze of hope. He finds it diflBcult 
to bring himself to estimate dangers properly or to face in- 
evitable evils. It seems to be a law of life that as every evil has 
its comp>ensation so every good shall have its offset. But this 
fact does not turn the good itself into an evil. 


Eibot, The Psychology of the Emotions, Eng. tr., p. 8. 



366 


ETHICS 


Cbaftsmanship 

The second constituent of happiness which I shall describe is 
the exercise of craftsmanship. By this I mean the employment 
of skill in the pursuit of an end. This skill may be intellectual 
or muscular. But of course the second is always, in the last resort, 
a form of the first, since it consists precisely in the training and 
then the guidance of the muscles by the mind. When a mental 
operation becomes purely mechanical through repetition it tends 
to drop from consciousness, or in any event to lose its attractive- 
ness. Those activities, therefore, are in the main alone interest- 
ing which involve the attempt to deal with a relatively novel 
situation. 

The pleasures of craftsmanship are due to success in the 
solution of problems ; that is, to the overcoming of obstacles. Our 
vocation offers us the primary field for the exercise of skill. But 
games also, in so far as they are not mere games of chance, 
depend upon it for their interest; and situations arising in the 
home or in social intercourse may call for it at any moment. 
In other words, craftsmanship may and ought to permeate every 
department of individual and social life. 

The joys of craftsmanship have their source in the conscious- 
ness of power. There are forms of the pursuit of power that are 
ignoble because they aim at pleasure in the weakness, that is 
to say the humiliation of others. Games are saved from inclusion 
in this category because the stakes are insignificant. The struggle 
for victory in the economic field, on the other hand, is freed 
from condemnation in so far as it consists in the attempt to serve 
the public more satisfactorily than one^s competitors. Apart 
from these and other parallel exceptions, the aim to make other 
men feel your power over them or your superiority to them is 
unworthy of a gentlemen. But craftsmanship need look to no 
such end. The immediate aim of the merchant is to discover 
what people will wish to buy, and then to procure it. The lawyer 
seeks, through the analysis of a vast mass of complicated and 
often conflicting data, to predict what will be the decision of a 
judge when passing upon a given situation. The engineer’s suc- 
cesses consist in moulding to his will obstinate material objects 



367 


THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 

such as steel and concrete. The physician is engaged in fighting 
disease. The writer attempts to embody significant and interest- 
ing ideas in clear and vigorous language. Whatever the ulterior 
ends in view, the immediate personal satisfaction in these and 
similar activities has its source not in the humiliation of fellow- 
beings but in the accomplishment of a definite task. It is pre- 
cisely because the exercise of craftsmanship does not necessarily 
involve the consciousness of superiority over others that it is 
not open to the criticism urged by Paley against the latter as a 
source of permanent satisfaction. 

The pleasures of craftsmanship are not identical with the so- 
called pleasures of work. In fact, there are no pleasures of work 
as such. The drudgery of a worker in the Ford factory, who 
mechanically performs the same monotonous operation all day 
long, day after day, is not an intrinsic good. It may be less of 
an evil than chronic idleness, but this fact does not prevent it 
from being an evil. Some work is in itself a curse, and can only 
be justified on the ground of the indispensability of its products.® 
Indeed, an age more sensitive to moral values than our own may 
refuse to play the parasite in permitting itself the enjoyment 
of goods bought at so high a price, and may elect to live without 
them until, as in the medieval crafts, creation can be mated 
with joy. 

In the face, then, of a great deal of indiscriminate praise of 
work, I must insist in the first place that work has no intrinsic 
value except as it involves craftsmanship, or the exercise of 
intellectual power. But other conditions are also essential. It 
must not be continued beyond a point where it becomes monoto- 
nous. Again, subject to a limitation which will be considered 
later, it must not seriously overtax our physical powers. 

''God give me hills to climb 
And strength for climbing.” 

sings Arthur Guiterman. Furthermore, the joy of craftsmanship 
is tremendously enhanced when we can work in a medium which 
we love for its own sake, like the painter who delights in the 

*See the vivid description of the working day of a casual laborer in 
Walter Wyckofif’s The Workers: The East, p. 39, ff. 



368 


ETHICS 


visible aspects of nature; the engineer who is fascinated by all 
machinery, including that which he is not called upon to handle; 
the physician who finds in the structure and working of the 
human body a source of inexhaustible wonder; the man of affairs, 
the born manager of men, who has an immediate interest in 
human nature as such. 

Finally the full measure of satisfaction, I am convinced, is 
reserved for those who are interested not merely in the processes 
as processes and the materials with which and upon which they 
work as materials, but who have in addition a deep and abiding 
interest in the results attained by their efforts. The prosecution 
of one^s vocation may be intrinsically interesting to a man whose 
wealth renders him financially independent of monetary returns. 
But it has a distinctly deeper significance, I can not but believe, 
to him who, in addition, finds in it the means of livelihood for 
himself and family. For a similar reason the physician or the 
business man who wants to serve his patients or his customers 
not merely for his own sake but for theirs also, and who is suc- 
cessful in doing so, feels a deep and strong satisfaction at his 
success which fuses with his delight in his skill and his interest 
in the materials with which he works, and thus produces a whole 
incomparably richer than that which could ever be derived from 
the mere exercise of intellect as a sport. 

Thus if there is no joy in achievement, whether because the 
product does not warrant it or because of the indifference of the 
agent, something precious will be lost. Hume has called attention 
to this fact in his characteristically concrete fashion. 

Tis evident that the pleasure of hunting consists in the action of 
the mind and body; the motion, the attention, the difficulty, and the 
uncertainty. Tis evident likewise that these actions must be attended 
with an idea of utility in order to their having any effect upon us. 
A man of the greatest fortune, and the farthest remov’d from avarice, 
tho' he takes a pleasure in hunting after partridges and pheasants, feels 
no satisfaction in shooting crows and magpies; and that because he 
considers the first as fit for the table, and the other as entirely use- 
less. Here ’tis certain that the utility or importance of itself causes 
no real passion, but is only requisite to support the imagination; and 
the same person who overlooks a ten times greater profit in any other 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 369 

subject is pleas’d to bring home half a dozen woodcocks or plovers, 
after having employ’d several hours in hunting after them.” * 

Dostoevsky writes: 

have sometimes thought that the way to crush and annihilate a 
human being completely would be to set him to do an absolutely sense- 
less and useless thing. If he were condemned to pour water from one 
tub into another and then back again, or to pound sand in a mortar, 
or to carry a heap of earth backward and forward, I am convinced that 
he would either conunit suicide within a few days or murder some of 
his fellow sufferers in order to suffer death at once and be delivered 
from this moral torture, shame, and degradation.” " 

We act normally to achieve a certain result, and indifference 
to this result tends to throw its shadow over the entire process 
by which it is attained. 

I should not have mentioned facts so obvious if it were not 
the fashion in certain quarters to ignore them. This is done 
whenever it is said that the good is to be found not in the results, 
but solely in the getting of results; that it consists in activity 
as such. This conclusion is not infrequently reached by calling 
everything that is regarded as valuable an activity, whether it 
be the affection with which a mother looks down upon her sleep- 
ing child or the enjoyment of a sunset. Each of these experiences 
of course does involve activity; so does looking at a hideous 
smoke-begrimed factory which you happen to be passing. But 
however anyone may think to solve the problems of ethics by 
playing fast and loose with language, the fundamental objection 
to this indiscriminate glorification of activity as an end in itself 
is found in the fact that activity does not appeal to the laymaq 
as intrinsically desirable except under the conditions, not in- 
considerable in number, which have here been enumerated. 

Power consists in the removal or destruction of opposing forces. 
The amount of the success is thus measured by the strength of 
the opposition. Accordingly the great prizes in this field can be 
secured only at a great price. Moreover the overwhelming impor- 
tance of craftsmanship in the world of values means that effort 


•A Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Pt. Ill, sec. X 
** The House of the Dead, Ch. 11. 



370 


ETHICS 


and struggle are forever necessary elements in any life which 
is really worth while. Those who go to the summit of a moun- 
tain only when it can be reached by automobile will never feel 
the exhilaration of the climb up the cliffs. Those who sail their 
boats over an eternally summer sea will never know what it 
means to master a storm. Furthermore, if the clash of power 
with power is an essential element in the pursuit of the best, we 
must accept anxiety, disappointment, failure and loss as its in- 
evitable companions, for only a child cares for a game in which 
he is sure to win. This does not mean that failure and its asso- 
ciates are good. It means that without them certain goods are 
unattainable on any large scale. In its struggle to create a better 
world, civilization, it would seem, should aim to confine these 
evils within the limits requisite for the attainment and preserva- 
tion of the corresponding goods. But unfortunately it is almost 
impossible to locate these limits. And if we knew where they 
were, had the power to go further, and restrained ourselves only 
that there might be something left to fight, should we under such 
circumstances really care for the fight? Seventy-five years ago 
practically no Mississippi steamer lived through more than two 
seasons. Within that time she either lay a wreck in some tortuous 
channel that had choked up over night, or had been destroyed 
by the sparks that were ever escaping from the pine knots blaz- 
ing in her furnace. Today almost any man, after a proper appren- 
ticeship, could steer a boat safely from St. Paul to New Orleans, 
and the pilots of the fifties, immortalized by Mark Twain in his 
Lije on the Mississippi, have gone forever. The old ways have 
given place to the new because we have tamed the wayward, 
unruly river and exchanged one type of furnace for another. 
Could we have done otherwise? No, for a good fight must be 
a real fight, not a stage combat. We are therefore doomed to 
remove evil where we can, knowing that the act of removing it 
may be one of the best experiences open to man, so that each 
success makes life just so much the poorer. If we are lovers 
of the human race we must therefore hope that new evils will 
threaten future generations in order that our descendants may 
have enemies worthy of their steel. 

In certain labor circles the tendency is apparently strong to 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 


371 


seek the joys of craftsmanship not in the exercise of one’s voca- 
tion but solely in play. Here alone, it is sometimes said, man 
really lives. This view of life seems to me equally false with that 
which would banish struggle and effort. For play can never fom 
the de rSsistance at the banquet of life; the dessert can 
never replace the meat course. For apart from many obvious 
considerations the player, as contrasted with the worker, can 
never taste the joys of achievement because of the triviality of 
the results. 

There is in my opinion no chance for a completely happy life 
except as a man loves his work. But there are forms of work 
which no human being can love. They present a problem of the 
same order, although not, I hope, of the same magnitude as that 
of negro slavery in the United States three generations ago. On 
the other hand, I am convinced from what the men most vitally 
concerned have themselves told me that a vigorous mind, more 
eager to get the best out of life than to pose as a martyr, can 
find something of interest in almost every form of work in which 
he possesses the powers requisite for the attainment of a fair 
amount of success. 

I once rode for a few hours on a train in company with a 
locomotive fireman. Although forty-five years of age, he had 
never attained the dignity of ^^sitting on the right-hand side of 
the cab.” It might therefore be supposed that he would be in- 
different and soured. Quite the contrary; he exhibited great 
enthusiasm about the workings of the mighty machine which 
he served and the skill involved in keeping the fire just hot 
enough and not too hot to make the steam gauge register the 
proper pressure in the boiler. ''You enjoy your work, then,” I 
said. We had both been slouching upon rather uncomfortable 
seats. At my question my companion straightened up, raised 
his head, and looking me squarely in the eye replied: “Ah, when 
I put my foot on the ^gangway’ I am a new man.” “Blessed is he 
who has found his work.” If so, this fireman had found blessed- 
ness and had found it in machinery 

Bookkeeping is regarded by the majority of those engaged in 

“C/. the interesting sketch of Michael Reynolds in Parton’s Captains 
o] Industry, Series I, p. 36. 



372 


ETHICS 


It as one of the most uninteresting and monotonous of occupa- 
tions. But a writer in The World*8 Work shows that this atti- 
tude is by no means necessitated by the nature of the work. 
Among other things he says: 'The ideal bookkeeper sees the 
meaning of the figures he sets down, sees the relation between 
his totals and the business — is, in short, a thinking human being.” 
I know a bookkeeper who takes just this kind of interest in his 
work. He says he would be glad, from sheer delight in his work 
itself, to keep the books of the great business house with which 
he is connected, without any compensation, if he could afford it 
and if that were the only condition upon which he was allowed 
to do it. 

The man who, whether through indifference or greed, allows 
his craft to become a trade, that is to say a mere means of get- 
ting money, will be visited by one of the most terrible of penal- 
ties; and the penalty is inevitable. He will lose his joy in crafts- 
manship and his pride in service, and become a mere money 
maker. And such a man, whatever his wealth, is for the eight 
or ten hours of every working day not a free man but a slave. 

Knowledge 

Among the intrinsic values of human life the satisfaction of 
the desire for knowledge for its own sake is one of the most im- 
portant. This statement will seem self-evident to some persons, 
preposterous to others. The latter may be reminded that, properly 
speaking, there is no such thing as love of knowledge, but rather, 
if I may be permitted the term, loves of knowledges. The knowl- 
edge desired may be the size of my neighbor's income, this 
afternoon^s baseball scores, the real causes of the World War, 
or the structure of the atom. Of such desires there is an almost 
infinite variety; and that, the acquisition of which thrills one 
man, may leave another absolutely cold. But everyone, whether 
low or high in the intellectual scale, cares for some of these 
things. And if our favorite items of knowledge were blotted from 
our minds, never to return, or if access to the accustomed fields 
were barred, or if we should lose all interest in them so that we 

'•Vol. 10, p. 6324. 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 373 

wished neither to think, nor talk, nor hear, nor read about them, 
we should quickly discover ourselves to be impoverished indeed. 

The differences between persons* intellectual interests are 
doubtless in part an ultimate fact, behind which it is impossible 
to go. But many of them are mere consequences of the principle 
that we can have no curiosity about that of which we know abso- 
lutely nothing. More than this, curiosity, I think, keeps always 
just one step ahead of knowledge, so that as the latter increases 
in breadth, and depth, and height, curiosity increases also. Here, 
emphatically, the appetite grows with eating. The continuous, 
systematic pursuit of knowledge is accordingly apt to find its 
initial motive in something else than desire for the knowledge 
for its own sake. This motive may be the need of it for purposes 
of earning a living or the attainment of some other external 
end. Or it may be aroused by knowledge in some neighboring 
field. Most rarely of all, I suppose, the incentive may come 
from the prevision of the joys of knowledge and a determination 
to possess them, strong enough to impel the learner to take the 
earlier steps in acquisition, which are often so irksome. 

Progress in attainment is normally accompanied by growing 
interest. Where this is not the case the explanation may lie in 
intellectual powers inadequate to the task. But more frequently, 
I think, it is due to that hypertrophied shrinking from effort 
which curses human life and robs mankind of so many of its 
best joys. You cannot get something for nothing. And almost 
every good thing in life must be won, not by the sword — else 
were there aspirants innumerable — but by the plowshare. Thus 
men who happen to have no premonitory intuition of the value 
of what they miss, refuse to pay the price which stern Nature 
seldom fails to exact. And then they complain that life is dull. 

From these facts we are justified in concluding, I believe, that 
the love of knowledge is a very important factor in the life of 
every man; and that if it does not occupy larger spaces in the 
topography of thought, if it does not extend itself over a wider 
variety of subjects, this is due largely to what we may call rela- 
tively accidental or superficial circumstances. These barriers a 
more enlightened system of education, in which the student him- 
self cooperates by the use of some other faculty besides memory. 



374 


ETHICS 


should to a large extent succeed in removing. Knowledge, in other 
words, is capable of becoming a leading item in the inner re- 
sources of most men. 

Knowledge may be either shallow or deep. The former kind 
consists in isolated facts; the latter is of universal propositions, 
or of generalizations, narrow or broad. ^^General observations 
drawn from particulars,” writes John Locke, “are the jewels of 
knowledge, comprehending great store in a little room.” A “gen- 
eral observation” is in itself normally more interesting than a 
“particular,” provided that it is actually understood, and not 
merely understood but also grasped in the fulness of its content 
by the mind. Grasp is made possible by the imagination fastening 
itself upon some concrete illustration of the rule, and holding 
the picture in the richness of its original coloring and the com- 
pleteness of its form before the mind. Under such conditions 
what we really have is not a generalization alone, or a particular 
alone, but the latter seen in the light of the former. The universal 
viewed from such an angle grips us more effectively than the 
particular, first because it embodies not one item but countless 
thousands. More important, however, is the fact that it includes 
within its compass relationships as well as terms, and the appre- 
hension by the intellect of a system of relationships is one of 
the highest delights which human life has to offer. This privilege 
is open in an exceptional degree to the student of science. For 
here more abundantly than elsewhere masses of individual units 
are brought together in one generalization; then groups of such 
generalizations are bound together to form a universal principle 
of a still higher order; and this process may continue until the 
borders of the universe seem almost within reach. In such an 
ascent seeming confusion is replaced by order, anarchy by the 
reign of law, chance by a beautiful necessity, dead fact by rea- 
son. In moments of such insight we stand upon the summit of a 
mountain and view the hitherto separated parts of nature as one 
vast, interrelated whole. Everything that is small and trivial 
within us falls away; and the mind expands to admit the great 
world. 

Thus while all knowledge is per se a good for him to whom 
it appeals, those who are acquainted with all its forms agree 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 375 

that the deepest is the best. This is not solely because it grants 
its votaries the beatific vision. It bears other gifts in its hands 
also. It offers the most complete immunity we possess against 
the dulling effects of repetition which permeate every department 
of life, and for which “we know no remedy.^^ This may be be- 
cause the universal is always turning a new facet towards us, 
so that novelty is always keeping satiety at a distance. But 
whatever the explanation the fact is beyond doubt. The deeper 
truths, furthermore, enjoy a distinction even more precious than 
their eternal youth. They usher us, as no others can, into the 
presence of the world’s underlying mystery. 

The sense of mystery is one of the most tremendous, as it is 
one of the most chastening and purifying experiences of human 
life. But there can be no consciousness of mystery, no recognition 
of the limitations of knowledge and no yearning desire to pierce 
the darkness which lies beyond, no feeling of the sublime in the 
presence of the great abyss, without some knowledge of that 
which lies this side of the barriers. For centuries man has talked 
of the mystery of the stars. But no one has felt it in its fulness 
who has not known at least that the stars are suns, and that the 
great globe from which we derive heat and light, and with them 
life, is a body utterly different in its principles of construction 
from the solid earth to which it ministers. As knowledge about 
the stellar universe increases, the mystery of those enormous 
centers of force, their origin, their history, the source of their 
continued life, their ultimate fate, the nature and significance 
of the vast and empty reaches of space that lie between them, 
presses more and more upon our minds. Only he who knows, 
knows what it is not to know. And although knowledge of our 
ignorance is depressing in so far as it forces upon us the con- 
sciousness of our impotence, it is also inspiring as a witness to 
the magnificence and majesty of that universe of which we form 
a part. 

These deeper levels of knowledge are accessible to all who 
have eyes to see and intelligence to think. Such a statement may 
sound like sentimentality, but as I intend it, it is literally true. 
There are unquestionably some departments of knowledge, such 
as modem physics, where the profoundest insights are open only 



376 


ETHICS 


to those who are masters of a difScult technique like the higher 
mathematics. But there is other knowledge besides that of the 
ultimate constitution of matter, knowledge which to some persons 
will always seem more warm, more homelike, and thus more 
attractive. Our knowledge of human nature and human society 
may start from the things we have directly learned by living. 
The villager may raise his knowledge of the community gossip 
to the dignity of a treatise on human nature, and many a shrewd 
and quite unlettered man or woman has succeeded in doing so. 
After all, every statement about an isolated fact may be called 
gossip. And all gossip may be transfigured as it gives birth to 
general ideas. Once more, a business man is in the very nature 
of the case the center of a network of relationships extending 
from his oflSce, his shop, or his factory to the ends of the earth. 
Every change in demand and supply, every new mode of or- 
ganizing the economic forces of which his activity is a unit, every 
shift in the distribution of wealth, every rise and fall in the 
efiiciency of workers, is the product of some waxing or waning 
of human wants, some new insight or some older insight re- 
covered, some happy or unhappy leap of the imagination, some 
tightening or relaxation of effort somewhere. Today^s economic 
system is not that of a generation ago; it is not that which will 
be a generation hence. All is perpetual motion, as in the cells that 
form the brain. How came it to be thus, whither is it tending, 
what is it today? These questions, first asked in their concretest 
form, for example concerning my own factory, its raw materials, 
its financial foundations, its workers, and its products, then of 
the factories of my competitors perhaps in distant cities, then 
of those of my neighbors; these questions leading to others and 
those to still others; — right here are the materials for the deeper 
insight; here is the opportunity for the business man to feel the 
glow and share the spirit of free adventure which makes the life 
of the student of science, history, and philosophy what they are, 
a thing precious beyond all that the world^s wealth can buy. 

As life goes on the student — the student as a man of business 
just as truly as the professional man of science, — ^keeps discover- 
ing not merely new facts, but also ever new relationships, rela- 
tionships within the little systems which form the starting point. 



377 


THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 

and relationships between the systems. Thus each year sees him 
richer in intellectual possessions, and he finds that in xhe intel- 
lectual as in the economic world wealth begets wealth. Every 
gain, every advance, makes the next one easier. For if “no one 
can learn that which he has no preparation for learning,” every- 
one can learn that for which he has the preparation. More than 
this, with each acquisition the older possessions grow in signifi- 
cance almost in geometric ratio. For this reason advancing life 
instead of becoming continuously more dull and drab as it does 
for most persons, grows more and more absorbing. “I always 
thought of old age as a much pleasanter period of life than the 
earlier years,” wrote the great scholar Wilhelm von Humboldt. 
“Now, having reached it, my expectations are almost sur- 
passed.” Every serious undergraduate discovers this principle 
at work as he passes from his freshman to and through his senior 
year. 

All knowledge, as I have said, whether it be deep or super- 
ficial, has a value of its own to him who cares for it. But it does 
much else for us besides satisfying the hunger of the mind. For 
one thing it takes us out of ourselves. Certainly we need period- 
ical vacations from self, even if for no other reason than that we 
may return to the familiar scene with new zest. Self after all is 
too narrow a cage for the human soul. It does not give us space 
to spread our wings. But outside the cage is the great world 
where we may roam at will. When misfortune comes, this ability 
to forget self, to turn our back on our own fate, may prove our 
salvation. 

I cannot refrain from referring to one other matter. “The best 
of life is conversation,” writes Emerson. We need not accept this 
dictum just as it stands, — and yet, he who has known the joys 
of really good conversation will recognize that these words point 
to a very important truth. Compare such an experience with 
the patter of the woman who can talk of nothing but her children, 
or that of her husband who has no ideas outside of his business 
save on the subjects of automobiles and golf. We see at once that 
good conversation is possible only among students — not neces- 
sarily students of books, not necessarily experimenters in a 

”C/. Payot, The Education of the Will (Eng. tr.), pp. 383-385. 



378 


ETHICS 


laboratory, but students in the larger sense, those who live 
habitually in the presence of ideas. 

To live in the presence of great ideas, not as things remote 
from life, but rather as an essence penetrating every fiber of life, 
makes the craftsman as distinguished from the drudge; makes 
the traveller as distinguished from the rustic; makes the man 
of broad vision as distinguished from the wretched being who 
cannot take his eyes from himself. 

Beauty 

For those who are sensitive to the appeal of each, beauty 
ranks as an equal in value to knowledge. If we are not to mis- 
understand this statement we must remind ourselves, as we did 
in studying knowledge, that there are many forms of beauty, 
and that a man who is susceptible to one may be quite blind 
to the attractions of another. A few people have an inborn love 
for every manifestation of the beautiful; but there is probably 
no human being so poor in soul as not to admire some of the 
creations of man^s efforts to embody beauty, or some feature of 
the lovely garment of nature. Most men care for certain aspects 
of the material world, even though it be no more than the 
dappled green of a shaded lawn. The enjoyment of music is per- 
haps as nearly universal in the race as any trait not strictly 
requisite for the maintenance of existence. A close competitor 
for this distinction is the interest in narrative, which is of course 
to be counted as a variety of the aesthetic experience. 

Why men differ in tastes as they do is, as in the parallel case 
of interest in knowledge, largely unknown. He who discovers the 
causes of the varied forms of obtuseness will be one of the great 
benefactors of mankind. While the race is waiting for him we 
can set down a few stray generalizations which seem quite 
certain. 

Many people have what President Wilson called a single-track 
mind. This means among other things that they are forever 
doomed to poverty of emotional life because they cannot follow 
a number of widely different leads, and therefore are shut out 
from the concomitant satisfactions. Our ancestors, as pioneers 
who had come to this new continent to subdue a wilderness, were 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 379 

men of action rather than of reflection and feeling. To the force 
of heredity was long added the influence of frontier modes of 
life. Our frontier, it must be remembered, disappeared ofiScially 
from the government maps only a little over a generation ago. 
In view of these facts it is perhaps no wonder that most Ameri- 
cans find their fundamental satisfactions in craftsmanship and 
the exercise of the affections. The pity of it is that hypertrophy of 
one function should lead to atrophy of the other; that there 
should be so little room in the mind by the side of these desirable 
traits for the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and the enjoy- 
ment of beauty. For life is not so rich in content that we can 
afford to throw away any of its treasures. All of us, and not 
merely Protestants, as Cardinal Newman would have it, are 
“anxious tillers of a frugal soil.*' 

In a community of “activists” those who possess some powers 
of fiesthetic appreciation are apt to lose what little they haye. 
“From him that hath not shall be taken away even that which 
he hath.” This is partly because we let fashion dictate what 
shall be the sources of our pleasure, especially when we have 
no very strong feelings of our own; partly because there will be 
relatively little material in such a society for the aesthetic emo- 
tions to feed upon. In consequence of these and other factors 
there enters the most powerful influence of all — ^the law of 
atrophy. This law declares: “That which is unexpressed dies.” 
The classical description of the loss of the higher faculties of 
taste through decay is that which is given by Mr. Darwin of his 
own experience. It has often been quoted but can hardly be 
omitted from an analysis like the present. He writes: 

“Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such 
as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and 
Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense 
delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also 
said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great 
delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of 
poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so in- 
tolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste 
for pictures or music. Music generally sets me thmking too energetically 
on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. I retain 
some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite de- 
light which it formerly did. . . . 



380 


ETHICS 


''This curious and lamentable loss of the higher sesthetic tastes is all 
the odder, as books on history, biographies, and travels (independently 
of any scientific facts which they may contain), and essays on all sorts 
of subjects interest me as much as ever they did. My mind seems to 
have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large 
collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of 
that part of the brain alone on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot 
conceive. If I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to 
read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every w^eek; 
for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have 
been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happi- 
ness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably 
to the moral character by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.” ^ 

It is possible to name at least one more cause for the phe- 
nomenon we are studying. Beauty, like knowledge, may be either 
superficial or deep. Much beauty has its source in the perception 
of relations between harmonious parts; it is due to the appre- 
hension of a pattern. This is very clearly the case in music and 
architecture. It holds, at bottom, equally for all the arts and 
also for the beautiful in nature. This pattern may be one which 
may be grasped by the mind in an instant and without effort; 
or it may be too complicated for so cheaply bought a mastery. 
In the latter case its attractions are not apt to be discovered 
in a community where there is no tradition to force its claims 
upon the attention, to arouse faith in its value, or to point the 
way to its attainment. In all music, for example, there are among 
other things, harmony, rhythm, and usually rhyme. In listening 
to great music he who has no previous training, or has not been 
endowed with exceptional powers of appreciation must learn by 
experience, as best he can, so to handle his attention, his powers 
of analysis, his memory and whatever other faculties may be 
involved, as to follow the pattern through the complications 
which tend to conceal it; and he can do this successfully, in the 
main, only in so far as he has the opportunity to hear the same 
composition repeatedly. But in a society which knows nothing 
of the more complicated forms of music where can he get the 
necessary incentives or the necessary opportunities? 

These considerations and others which the refiective reader 
will discover for himself lead to the conclusion that sssthetic 
The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. I, p. 81. 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 381 

blindness is not an inevitable limitation of human nature; that 
many, probably most people, could be educated to a catholic 
enjoyment of all forms of beauty under certain assignable con- 
ditions which might well be realized a long distance this side 
of Utopia, If so, it is capable of becoming a practically universal 
element in life. For the stimuli of sesthetic feelings are today 
accessible to practically every member of a civilized society. 
Literature began its career as a democratic art with the inven- 
tion of printing. Painting, sculpture, and architecture were en- 
abled to reveal to a larger public at least some few of their 
charms, upon the invention of the art of engraving and its suc- 
cessors. The human voice is still the greatest of musical instru- 
ments. And everywhere there is nature. We do not have to 
go to Switzerland or the Mediterranean coast to find its beauties. 
Wherever we may live nature surrounds us with her perfections, 
usually on the ground or in the trees just above us; and always, 
at least, in the sky with its clouds, its mist and haze, its depths 
of blue, its sunset colors, and by night the stately procession 
of the stars. 

Beauty, accordingly, must not be thought of as something 
apart from everyday life, as something to be obtained only 
through a visit to a gallery of paintings. We should and may 
live in the midst of beauty. First in our homes, for which, if we 
would but refuse to sell ourselves as slaves to luxury and ostenta- 
tion, most of us could afford to buy a few really beautiful objects 
of art — chairs built on graceful lines, good rugs, a bit of pewter, 
a vase for flowers, an etching and a few photographs for the 
walls; then in our office or factory; then in so far as our fellow- 
citizens can be induced to cooperate with us, in our cities; and 
finally, as is being done in many parts of our country, in the 
state. Wild nature, books, music — ^these may be the delight of 
our leisure hours. But many forms of beauty may be integral 
parts of the hours we devote to work and to social life. 

Our discussion of the value of beauty has raised two questions 
which must not be confused. First, does beauty rank for those 
who know it most intimately as one of the best things in life? 
Second, how widely can the appreciation of beauty be dis- 
tributed? I return to the first, which is really that with which 



382 


ETHICS 


we started. There are men and women to whom beauty means so 
much that they care for little else and still declare life to be 
worth living. There are more catholic minds who value other 
goods beside beauty but find in it one of the great fundamental 
values. 

Both of these classes unite, I believe, in declaring that the 
deeper beauties are more satisfying than the superficial ones. 
It is the former, chiefly that call into existence those priceless 
experiences which remain in our memories through life, a joy 
today after the lapse of years. It is these also that are most 
resistant to the dulling effects of repetition, which is an even 
more insidious foe here than it is in the field of knowledge. For 
it is not true without qualification that a thing of beauty is a 
joy forever. If this famous aphorism holds for the more hidden 
features of nature, for a play of Shakespeare or a Wagner opera, 
it is because they are continuously revealing new aspects when 
we return to them, so that the treasures which they are capable 
of yielding are little short of inexhaustible. Finally, it is these 
deeper experiences that most completely lift us out of ourselves 
and transport us to the heights where the dull monotony of the 
commonplace is lost to view and the vision opens on a world 
moulded nearer to the heart's desire than the shabby reality in 
which we are too often imprisoned. ‘He that seeketh findeth.” 
And beauty has reserved its choicest gifts for those who earnestly 
and patiently search them out. 

Friendship 

The next good which I shall name is friendship. Our friends 
differ from our acquaintances through the element of intimacy. 
Acquaintanceship is a good, indeed it is an indispensable ele- 
ment of a satisfactory life, but friendship is something far more 
precious. Friendship involves affection or love. But it includes 
something more. A father may feel affection for his year-old 
son, yet can hardly look upon him as a friend. Friendship 
involves in addition to love a consciousness of congeniality and 
delight in companionship because of such congeniality. Friend- 
ship may not involve the same intensity of feeling as does 
parenthood; but a person who does not excite a feeling which 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 383 

can fairly be called affection or love can hardly be regarded 
as a friend. Friendship, as I employ the term, is applicable to 
the relationship between husband and wife, brother and brother, 
as well as between those who are members of different families. 

It is unnecessary to say much about the value of friendship. 
Everyone has felt loneliness, and most persons regard it, when 
long continued, as one of the most horrible forms of torture. 
Everyone knows also that there may be the most intense loneli- 
ness in the midst of an abundance of acquaintances. “For a crowd 
is not company; and faces are but a gallery of pictures; and 
talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.”^® You 
realize that when you turn your back on these people to live 
elsewhere you will drop out of their lives and the circle of their 
interests completely and forever. And that whatever may befall 
you here and now or later they will feel no serious concern for 
you and your fate; and you, in turn, as little for them. 

“I shall despair. There is no creature loves me: 

And if I die, no soul shall pity me.^' ** 

Thus speaks the most “hard-boiled*^ of Shakespeare’s villains 
on the eve of a great crisis in his life. And Shakespeare certainly 
knew what was in the heart of man. There is thus no other form 
of association that can take the place of friendship. And he who 
loses his friends for the sake of a multitude of acquaintances, 
as many men have done, has made a poor exchange. 

Much has been written about the usefulness of friends; most 
eloquently perhaps by Lord Bacon in his famous essay “Of 
Friendship”; but as I am dealing with intrinsic, not extrinsic 
values, I shall here confine myself to the needs which friendship 
meets directly. Of these the following seems to me the most 
important. 

In a sense we live and must live forever utterly alone. The 
abyss that separates each man from the rest of the universe can 
really never be passed. But we can at least stand upon the verge 
and signal to each other as Earth might signal to Mars; and 

“Fmncis Bacon, Essay “Of Friendship.*’ 

^Richard III, Act V, Scene III, 1, 200. Cf. King Lear, Act V, Scene 
III, 1. 239: “Yet Edmund was beloved.** 



384 


ETHICS 


the demand of our natures for such communion is imperative. 
A friend is one who is profoundly interested in those things which 
most profoundly interest me. And just as he likes best to do the 
things I like best to do, so does he like to talk about the things 
about which I most wish to talk. We have, as the phrase is, 
common interests and can thus pursue them together to om 
pleasure as well as profit. Among these interests for which my 
friend cares must be myself, my ambitions, joys, sorrows, suc- 
cesses, failures, hopes, and fears. I do not speak of these things 
to most persons lest I bore them. But I must have someone to 
whom I can reveal them. This someone is precisely my friend. 
My hopes and fears will become his own; my successes he will 
rejoice in, my failures give him genuine sorrow. And this “re- 
doubleth joys and cutteth griefs in half.^^ More than this, he 
will approve my ambitions — for precisely this is involved in 
congeniality of spirit; and he will share my attitude toward 
human life, for his conceptions of its goods and evils will be 
fundamentally my own. For this reason I can reveal myself to 
him without concealment — not merely because he is interested 
in me but because he will be in sympathy with my ideals, my 
purposes, and my judgments upon man and his ways. We shrink 
from any real self-revelation in the presence of most persons 
because we fear to be met by an ill-concealed yawn, or 
frown, or sneer, or sardonic smile. The things for which we 
care most are thus those about which we are compelled to keep 
silent. And those things about which it is most necessary to 
keep silent are those about which we most want to speak. My 
friend is one who makes it possible for me to satisfy this craving. 

The basis of friendship is congeniality of tastes and interests. 
Friends must enjoy doing the same things. Their attitude toward 
lifers problems must be fundamentally the same; at least must 
be such that they can understand and respect each other^s dif- 
ferences. Where one man approves and welcomes that which 
another condemns, hates, and would if he could annihilate, the 
fundamental conditions of friendship are obviously lacking. Then 
they must respect and admire each other, although they need 
not regard each other as perfect. Much wreckage of happiness 
in marriage is due to the expectation of perfection in one’s mate. 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 385 

together with the failure to face the question whether one is him- 
self worthy of union with perfection. But because we are not all 
perfect beings there can be no permanent friendship without 
perspective, that is to say without recognition of the differences 
of the gravity of faults, and the ability to place them in the fore- 
ground, middle ground, or background of our picture of the 
friend's personality, as they may deserve. Finally, friendship is 
an impossibility without unselfishness. But of this I shall speak 
in another place.^^ 


Self-Realization 

'‘Life is a struggle to think well of ourselves," writes Felix 
Adler.^® The longing to think well of ourselves is a source of 
some of our deepest joys and at the same time of our greatest 
misfortunes. A not inconsiderable part of the latter is due to 
our determination to stand well in our own eyes at whateyer 
cost. Therefore when mistakes are made, calamities befall us, 
estrangements arise, we attribute them wholly to the folly, care- 
lessness, or downright wickedness of others. It is here that we 
show ourselves, as I have already said, past masters in the art 
of throwing dust into our eyes. It is here that the will to believe 
celebrates its most astounding triumphs. Hence come enmities 
between acquaintances, the break-up of ancient friendships, cold- 
ness between those who must live together, suspicion of the whole 
body of one's fellow-men — a world in which everyone throws 
all the blame on some one else because he will not see himself 
as he is. This trait of human nature may make the cynic laugh 
and the lover of mankind weep. But however we may feel, we 
may learn from it how deeply rooted in every one of us is the 
craving for self-respect. The principle at work is that whateyer 
we admire in another we wish, or tend to wish to possess for 
ourselves. In the modern small boy the model is supplied by 
the reigning athlete. From this point ambition may expand until, 
in time, it covers the entire field of human excellence, the ability 
to use our muscles for the shaping or creating of material objects, 
intellectual power in all its myriad forms, delicacy and keenness 

"Chapter XXII, page 469. 

“ The Standard, Vol. I, p. 120. 



386 


ETHICS 


of artistic discrimination and appreciation, refinement of taste, 
grace and charm of manner, depth of emotional capacity, strength 
of will, and sensitiveness to the rights of other persons. Any or 
all of those capabilities may be sought not merely as a means 
to an end but as an end in itself. And in accordance with the 
general laws of desire, attainment, or rather each step forward 
in the direction of attainment, will tend to produce satisfaction. 
The name which is commonly given to the object of this quest is 
self-realization. 

Among the many forms which the desire for perfection may 
take, the desire for perfection of character is the most worthy 
of careful study. But what I have to say on this subject I shall 
leave for Chapter XXII, where the relation of character to 
individual happiness will be discussed in a number of its bearings. 
In that place I shall also consider certain difiSculties which arise 
when personal perfection of any kind is made the goal of 
systematic endeavor. 

Adventure 

The preceding enumeration omits two values which have 
always played a major role in the life of the European race. 
They are adventure and religion. From a strictly logical point 
of view they ought not to be classified with their predecessors on 
our list, because in principle they are included in one or another 
of them. But they are too important to be passed over in silence. 

Adventure, whether it be feats of arms, the exploration of 
unknown lands, or hazardous activity of any other sort, derives 
a part of its attractiveness from the appeal of craftsmanship. 
It satisfies the desire to be conscious of one^s own powers. With 
this is united, however, another factor, the will to expose oneself 
to the danger of loss, suffering, or death; to gamble with fate. 
In this experience is found an excitement which to some is the 
wine of life. 

There is little to be gained by discussing the place of the 
craving for adventure in the modern world because the oppor- 
tunities for its satisfaction seem doomed to disappear largely 
or entirely in the course of the years immediately before us. 
Civilization is apparently its inexorable enemy and will carry 
away the victory in the end. There is, indeed, adventure in 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 387 

business— but really only for a few. War is still with us, but 
the element of adventure has disappeared. If it had not this 
would make no difference; for either war or civilization must die. 
The boy reading the Life of Jesse James behind the barn is by 
no means an abnormal figure; on the contrary, he deserves our 
sympathy. This hunger for excitement, whether in youth or man, 
is one which the knights of the Round Table might satisfy blame- 
lessly. Doubtless those who lead routine lives have a grossly 
exaggerated notion of the freedom, sweep, and exhilaration of the 
career of the seeker for adventure. Nevertheless the closing up of 
the spaces where this spirit may work and roam is a real evil 
— one more reminder of the fact that all progress must be paid 
for and that the price exacted is often high. 

Religion 

Religious values can not be discussed without reference to the 
fact that there are almost as many definitions of religion as there 
are writers on the subject. To me, however, its essential nature 
is represented by the words: ‘^Enoch walked with God.” At all 
events it is this ‘‘life of God in the soul of man” whose place 
in the system of goods it is best worth our while to consider. 
Religion thus conceived means companionship with God. This 
involves the satisfaction of the craving for love and with it for 
self-revelation to an understanding, congenial, and sympathetic 
spirit, free from that admixture of imperfection which is the price 
of all human intercourse. It offers the opportunity for the exer- 
cise of craftsmanship in the prosecution of tasks of infinite 
significance, with death as nothing other than a door opening to 
new and more splendid opportunities. And to many minds it 
brings the complete assurance that everything which is perma- 
nently good in one^s personal endeavor and everything which is 
fundamentally legitimate in the purposes of mankind will be 
saved from ultimate destruction; that the best in life will live 
forever. With this faith comes a feeling of peace and security, 
the peace that passeth understanding. For those to whom these 
things are realities and not mere words, the thin shadows of the 
experiences of others, religion thus comes to be the supreme 
realization of all values. 



388 


ETHICS 


The moralist, however, would be derelict to his duty if he 
failed to point out the dangers of that form of religion which 
accepting at the same time the doctrines of the omnipotence and 
the goodness of God meets the difficulties involved in this con- 
ception by asserting that whatever happens represents not merely 
the best attainable under irremovable conditions perhaps un- 
toward, but the very best conceivable by the mind of Omnis- 
cience itself. Those who are driven by a craving for activity which 
can not be stilled will doubtless continue to fight for their favorite 
ends whether they hold this creed or not. But the great majority 
of men, perhaps even most of the knights of the strenuous life, 
need to be supported in their struggles by the conviction that 
the world will really be just so much the poorer if they do not 
play their part. The progress of medicine, for example, would 
have been all but impossible without the conviction that sickness 
is a real evil, not a sham or “apparent^^ one, and that it ought 
to be driven from the world as a curse to mankind. If among 
the workers for its destruction there are some who believe that 
whatever is, including disease, is right, this merely affords one 
more demonstration of the well-known fact that human beings 
are capable to an almost inconceivable degree of carrying about 
with them mutually inconsistent ideas, and, with blissful un- 
consciousness, following, or supposing themselves to be following 
both. Happily there are forms of religious devotion which never 
ask nor expect to receive any such absolute guaranty of success 
before they will consent to enter the battle, and who realize with 
Plato that '^God, inasmuch as he is good, cannot be the cause 
of all things.”^* 


The Interpenetration op Values 

This brings to an end my survey of the most valuable experi- 
ences of life. They are not to be conceived, however, as an 
agglomeration of unrelated ends. On the contrary, they are to 
a large extent complementary, so that the value of one is en- 
hanced by the presence of the others. Thus craftsmanship can 
not yield its best fruits except as it is rooted and grounded in 
vigorous, abounding health. For this it is which gives action its 
" The Republic, Book II, 379. 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 389 

zest as well as contributes to its success. The pursuit of our 
vocation is also most enjoyable, as we have seen, when it deals 
with materials which we like on their own account. But such 
materials, it will be remembered, are those which attract us 
either because they appeal to our desire for knowledge or our 
love for the beautiful. Wide observation, a good memory, power 
of analysis and of generalization, — in other words knowledge 
and wisdom are among the best equipments for friendship. For 
obviously the richer the personality of the friends the more they 
will have to give to each other; and the more they have to give 
the more will they care to be together, and this will mean in 
the end, the more they will care for each other. 

Thus there arises before the mind the picture of a system of 
interrelated goods each of which reaches its highest expression 
only through its union with others. At the foundation lies that 
vigor of body which is the source of good spirits and the un- 
motived joy of living, on the one hand; and on the other, of the 
craving for action, for fulness of life, without which other goods 
are apt to seem but a shadow. The core of the day is occupied 
with some vocation involving the exercise of powers which are 
a delight in themselves and which produce results to the agent 
and those whom they directly serve of such a nature that they 
add zest to the employment and arouse satisfaction in the retro- 
spect and prospect. In the most favorable circumstances the 
material with which the vocation deals will in addition satisfy 
the love of knowledge or of beauty, or even both. Knowledge 
and beauty will supply some at least of the materials which 
fill the hours of leisure, and the beautiful will permeate the 
home and its surroundings. Family and friends will call forth 
the exercise of the affections and satisfy those subtler needs 
which only friendship can meet. And the experiences of each pass- 
ing year will strengthen the determination so to live that one 
may be able to think ever better of himself. If finally it has 
been possible to preserve one^s religious faith amidst the clamor 
of contending speculations, then by day and by night, in work 
and play, in society and solitude, in joy and sorrow, will be 
felt the presence of the Great Companion, “with whom is no 
variableness, neither shadow of turning.” 



390 


ETHICS 


The Criteria of Valuation 

By what criteria, it may be asked, were the goods enumerated 
in the preceding description selected from the mass of values 
which life sets before us? I answer, first, it represents what is 
essentially the consensus of opinion among those who have given 
serious attention to this subject. But mere authority can not 
satisfy an active mind and ought not to be allowed to do so. 
Other evidences are available, however, of a more objective 
kind. From the rise of Greek ethics with Socrates down to the 
present day the nature of the good has been a subject of inter- 
minable debate. But there are certain characteristics of good 
which are self-evident, apart from the clashing creeds of riyal 
ethical sects. Examined in the light of these criteria our selection 
of values will find, I believe, its justification. 

In the first place, then, it is wise to seek those goods which 
depend for their attainment or preservation upon conditions 
which lie as much as possible within our power to control. While 
all the goods in our enumeration have their ultimate source in 
what is given us, as is inevitable in any event, nevertheless a 
little reflection will show most of them to be within the reach 
of a vigorous will thoroughly convinced of their value. 

In the second place, other things being equal, the more en- 
during goods are to be chosen rather than the less enduring. 
The ends which I have set forth as most worthy of pursuit are 
the only ones which are capable of filling any large proportion 
of a long series of days. They are those also which can resist 
most effectively the tendency to become dulled through repeti- 
tion. They are those which can most easily be preserved in 
the gallery of memory, and which we should care most to have 
memory preserve. 

Finally, the values which we are considering are the most 
fruitful, in the sense that they contain a principle of growth 
which may render each year devoted to their pursuit richer than 
its predecessor. Money makes money — but only so far as we 
abstain from using it for purposes of consumption. On the other 
hand, the more we give ourselves to our friendships the more 
precious do they become to us. The more we spend the more we 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 391 

have. The same thing is true of craftsmanship, and the love of 
knowledge and of beauty. Each gain makes the next one easier 
and more certain. And with each acquisition the old possessions 
increase their hold upon our affections. 

Subjectivism in Values 

There remains a question of fundamental importance. Are 
these things which I have declared to be the best elements in 
life a good for those persons who have no appreciation of them? 
I answer first, “No.” Every form of pleasure or satisfaction is 
the result of the reaction of an inner susceptibility to a stimulus 
outside of itself. The ocean, a snow-capped mountain, each may 
be seen in identical color and form by two persons; to one it 
may rank as one of the tremendous experiences of life; to the 
other it may mean no more than a billboard. “We expect great 
things with no real power to receive them,” wrote John Bascom, 
referring to marriage.*® Nothing whatever in life can possibly 
be a good without the power to receive it as a good. 

But this statement is not the whole truth. In the first place 
it is a fact that he who has tastes and interests, in so far as he 
also has within his power the conditions for gratifying them, is 
actually so much better off than one who is without them. In 
the second place, it is probable that everyone who has ordinary 
intelligence could develop these tastes and interests to a far 
higher degree than is commonly supposed to be possible. We have 
seen that the germs of all are to be found in any human being 
who is not subnormal in intelligence. And many experiences such 
as the following seem to show that, given a determined will 
with its concomitant patience, the hidden germs of the higher 
interests can be quickened into vigorous growth. A certain young 
man went through college, interested chiefly in the work of 
the crew, of which in his last year he was captain. After gradu- 
ating and entering business he became impressed by the fact 
that there were people who were deriving enjoyment and in- 
spiration from books with famous titles which to him meant 
nothing. He resolved that their experience should be his also. 
So he took up the classical English authors and went at the 

“ Things Learned by Living, p. 65. 



392 


ETHICS 


study of them with the same spirit with which he had trained 
as an oarsman. assure you that at first I was terribly bored,” 
he told some of his acquaintances, ‘^but I kept at it until I found 
what I was looking for.” Now the reading of the best literature 
has become his great passion — an occupation to which he devotes 
every available moment outside of business hours. Literature was 
a good for this young man even in the days of his ignorance, in 
a perfectly definite and extremely important sense of the word 
good. 

The Relation op the Inner and Outer Factors op Happiness 

The principle that the enjoyment of good involves an inner 
capacity as well as something to which it responds is of universal 
application, holding equally for the most passing insignificant 
pleasure — as that of food in the mouth — to the great values of 
human life. This fact makes it possible for us to assess the role 
of wealth in the field of values. Anyone at all familiar with the 
world about him knows that wealth, which we sometimes stupidly 
say enables us to get ^^everything we want,” frequently turns 
out a cruel disappointment as a gateway to happiness. The rea- 
son will be found written upon every page of this Chapter. With 
most of the greater goods wealth has little or nothing to do one 
way or the other. Where it is useful in supplying the external 
factors, as in travel, it can accomplish nothing for its pos- 
sessor except as the inner capacity is there also. Robert Louis 
Stevenson knew at first hand wealth, poverty, and that middle 
state which is neither poverty nor riches. This is what he thought 
about wealth: 

''Money is only a means; it presupposes a man to use it. The rich 
can go where he pleases, but perhaps please himself nowhere. He can 
buy a library or visit the whole world, but perhaps he has neither 
patience to read nor intelligence to see. The table may be loaded and 
the appetite wanting; the purse may be full and the heart empty. 
He may have gained the world and lost himself ; and with all his wealth 
around him, in a great house and spacious and beautiful demesne, he 
may live as blank a life as any tattered ditcher. Without an appetite, 
without an aspiration, void of appreciation, bankrupt of desire and 
hope, there, in his great house, let him sit and look upon his fingers. 
It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting 
shells than to be born a millionaire. Although neither is to be despised 



THE BEST THINGS OF LIFE 


393 


it is always better policy to learn an interest than to make a thousand 
pounds; for the money will soon be spent, or perhaps you may feel 
no joy in spending it; but the interest remains imperishable and ever 
new. To b^ome a botanist, a geologist, a social philosopher, an 
antiquary, or an artist, is to enlarge one’s possessions in the universe 
by an incalculably higher degree, and by a far surer sort of property, 
than to purchase a farm of many acres. You had perhaps two thousand 
a year before the transaction; perhaps you have two thousand five 
hundred after it. That represents your gain in the one case. But in the 
other, you have thrown down a barrier which concealed significance 
and beauty. The blind man has learned to see. ... To be, not to 
possess — ^that is the problem of life. To be wealthy, a rich nature is the 
first requisite and money but the second.”® 

A rich nature, then, is the central condition of individual happi- 
ness, and — such are the fundamental harmonies of social exist- 
ence — perhaps the best gift which it is in our power to offer 
the world. 

*“Lay Sermons,” in Collected Works, Pentland Edition, Vol. XV, p. 454. 



Chapter XIX 

THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 

The preceding Chapter tried to show that certain experiences 
or certain elements of life are good. It did not maintain that 
these were the only elements at which the human will might 
wisely aim, but only that they were the most important ones. 
Such a treatment of the subject suggests certain questions of 
great theoretical if not practical importance and leaves them 
unanswered. They are: (1) What is the content of our standard 
of good, i.e., what must be the nature of anything whatever if 
it is properly to be called good; or what is the common nature 
of all good things? (2) What is the meaning of the term good? 
To these problems we shall now turn our attention. As before, 
our inquiry concerns itself solely with intrinsic goodness. 

Early Hedonism 

Very simple answers were given to these two questions in the 
early history of ethics, answers which, if satisfactory, would 
have made our quest really too easy to be interesting. They 
are (1) the good means the desired. “Whatsoever is the object 
of any man^s appetite or desire, this is it which he for his part 
calleth good,” writes Thomas Hobbes.^ (2) All desire is for 
pleasure, and for nothing else. Hence the varied experiences of 
life are worth having in proportion to their pleasurableness; 
and they are bad in so far, and only in so far as they are painful, 
or as the modern psychologist would say, “displeasurable.” This 
view is called Hedonism, from the Greek word heddne, meaning 
pleasure. 

The controversy about the good is one long series of mis- 
understandings. In the hope of helping to eliminate at least one 
of them, I shall begin by considering what is meant by pleasure 
and displeasure. Pleasure and displeasure (pain) are ultimate 

* Leviathan, 1651, Ch. VI. 


394 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 395 

elements of consciousness and therefore are as undefinable as 
the sensation red. They are never found alone, but always fused 
with some sensation, or some group of sensations disposed in a 
particular pattern, or some emotion. To most of us the display 
of color in the rainbow or in a garden of flowers is pleasurable; 
so are certain combinations of tones, so are the odor of a rose 
and the taste of sugar, and a great deal else beside. Here the 
pleasure is fused with a sensation or group of sensations. Many 
emotions are highly pleasurable also, notably affection or love, 
joy, the emotion of the ludicrous, and the emotion of the sublime. 
The attainment of a desired end is usually (by no means always) 
followed by a pleasurable experience which may be called the 
pleasure of fruition. It is in reality the emotion of satisfaction. 
This emotion, it may be remarked, is either identical with joy 
(being simply its less intense form) , or is at any rate .very 
intimately related with it. It should go without saying that in 
so far as any of these experiences can be called up by memory 
so that we see in the mind^s eye the flower garden, or hear in the 
mind^s ear the melody, they will tend to be accompanied by 
pleasure also. If we call these copies of past experiences images, 
we may summarize by saying that pleasure never appears alone 
in consciousness, but always fused with sensations, sensation 
patterns, images, or emotions. 

What is true of pleasure is true of displeasure. It is found in 
some tastes and odors, in the sensations of nausea and the inti- 
mately related “feeling” of disgust, in a few combinations of 
sound, and in a very few color “patterns.” One of its most fre- 
quent occurrences is in connection with what the psychologists 
now call “pain sensation.” This sensation is obtained in its purest 
form perhaps when we prick or cut the finger. In very low in- 
tensities pain sensations are not displeasurable, or at least not 
markedly so. But in their most intense forms they constitute 
some of the most horrible experiences of which we can become 
the victim. Many emotions are displeasurable; sorrow always, 
and fear, anger, and hatred ordinarily. “The pain of disappoint- 
ment” is the displeasurable dissatisfaction which normally at- 
tends the failure of a desire to attain its end. It is either identical 
with, or intimately related to sorrow. Like pleasure, displeasure 



396 


ETHICS 


never appears alone but always fused with some sensation, sen- 
sation pattern, emotion, or occasionally an image.® 

The Evidence Against the Earlier Hedonism 

The fundamental and fatal objection against the more primi- 
tive form of Hedonism is that, as a matter of fact, much desire 
is aroused by other things than the anticipation of pleasure. 
Crucial instances are supplied by the desire whose object is some 
state that will come into existence only after one^s death. Thus 
in an article in The Forum ® Jacob Riis writes that many of the 
bitterly poor in New York will scrape and save from their pitiful 
earnings, subjecting themselves to all sorts of privations and 
positive sufferings, in order that they may get enough money 
together to be able to pay for a grave of their own and thus 
escape burial in the Potter^s Field. Akin to this desire is that for 
posthumous fame. This latter desire is not aroused by the pros- 
pect of my feeling pleasure after my death because people are 
praising me. For one thing, this motive has been a master-spring 
of action in men who, like Julius Caesar, did not believe in the 
existence of a world beyond the grave. And it will hardly be 
argued that those who hold the Christian doctrine of immor- 
tality are moved by the picture of themselves as seated on some 
golden throne in a state of delicious intoxication as the words 
of praise ascend like sweet incense from earth to sky. Nor will 
anyone have the hardihood to maintain that the men and women 
who starve and shiver in order to be able to buy a burial place 
are thinking of the pleasure they will one day feel lying in their 
cofiSns and saying to themselves, ‘*What joy, this land belongs 
to me I” No! Such instances as these show unmistakably that 
volition may be directed to the bringing into existence of a cer- 
tain situation or “state of things” whose arrival promises no 
pleasure, but which attracts the will none the less. 

* Sorrow is always displeasurable in itself. But the recollection of a sad 
event in one’s life may, under certain circumstances, be pleasurable. More- 
over such is the complexity of the human mind that some persons under 
certain conditions can find a kind of satisfaction in contemplating their 
own woes, especially those due to the actions of other people. These are 
the joys of self-pity — the symptoms of a very dangerous disease. 

* December, 1892, p. 493. 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 


397 


It is true that when desires of this kind attain their end, the 
pleasurable emotion of satisfaction (if one is alive to feel it) 
ordinarily, though not always, arises in consciousness. But the 
expectation of experiencing this emotion was not the stimulus 
that evoked the desire. For as we saw in Chapter V, page 75, 
a desire can not be created by the thought of the satisfaction 
which we should feel if we had it. On the contrary, if the satis- 
faction of fulfilled desire is to be obtained, the desire whose 
fulfilment gives rise to the satisfaction must have first been in 
existence. And if there is attainment without desire, as where a 
man becomes famous who, like George Washington, cares noth- 
ing for fame, no satisfaction whatever will result. 

Desires whose objects are something other than pleasure may 
be called anhedonic desires. They include some of the dominant 
springs of human action. Among them are the desire for the good 
opinion of others, the desire for perfection or excellence (or for 
the good opinion of self), the desire for power, the desire for 
knowledge, and the desire to communicate our knowledge to 
others. The desire for the good opinion of our fellow-men in- 
cludes, of course, the desire for fame, whether posthumous or 
otherwise; the desire for power includes interest in the exercise 
of craftsmanship; the desire to communicate is in itself some- 
thing quite other than the desire to make a favorable impression 
on others, or to talk about oneself or one^s children, or to do a 
service to a friend. Your room-mate, for example, sits reading 
the evening paper in the room where you are studying. He 
knows perfectly well that you detest interruptions; yet he may 
break into your work half a dozen times to read you some sen- 
tence or paragraph which happens to interest him. 

What was shown to be true of knowledge in the preceding 
Chapter applies to all the other anhedonic desires. Each of the 
classes just enumerated represents a genus comprising a very 
large number of species. Thus the desire for the good opinion 
of others may take the form of the wish to appear well dressed 
to the strangers one passes on the city streets; or to one^s 
friends; or to one’s rivals in the business of making a fashion 
plate of oneself. Or one may be indifferent about clothes and 
care rather to be known as a skilful rider, a good judge of etch- 



398 


ETHICS 


ings, or a successful business or professional man. And one may 
crave the approval of an intimate circle, or the “fit few,” or the 
multitude of the living, or the living and their great-grand- 
children. 

Examination op the Assertion That Pleasure Is Never an 
Object of Desire 

From the now universally accepted position that desire may 
be aroused by the prospect of other things than pleasure, certain 
writers have rushed to the other extreme and maintained that 
desire is never for pleasure. Still defining good as the object of 
desire they have concluded that pleasure forms no part of the 
content of good. It may indeed accompany the good, as noise 
attends the motion of an automobile; but it is a mere by-product; 
and according to the consistent advocates of this view its pres- 
ence enriches the good precisely as much as noise pushes an 
automobile. 

It will be obvious, however, to a mind interested primarily not 
in simplification at any cost, but in seeing things as they are, 
that as power or knowledge can be an end in itself, so can 
pleasure. I may desire coffee with my dinner rather than water, 
not because water would slake my thirst less effectively, but 
because I find the taste or the effects of coffee agreeable. Where 
the taste does not prove to be such, as unfortunately often hap- 
pens, I no longer care for it. I have flowers on my table because 
the sight of them gives me pleasure; and when they cease to 
please by fading, I remove them. I go to a concert or a play 
in so far as I expect to enjoy it, and if I enjoy it enough I may 
desire to go again. I walk to see a sunset for the same reason, 
and furnish my house as far as I can afford to on the same 
principle. 

As pleasure may be an object of desire so displeasure may be 
an object of aversion. It is difficult to know what to say on 
this subject. Those writers who deny that pleasure and dis- 
pleasure are ever the direct object of desire and aversion are 
bound to maintain that every humap being is perfectly in- 
different to displeasure as such. Yet the attempt to prove the 
opposite involves the setting down of such deadly commonplaces 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 399 

that one is ashamed to put the words to paper. If displeasure 
is not an object of aversion why do people take an ansesthetic 
when about to undergo an operation? Why does Cassandra beg 
for a painless death? 

''Grant me one boon, a swift and mortal stroke 
That all unwning by pain, with ebbing blood 
Shed forth in quiet death I close my eyes/^ * 

One writer opines that this attitude is to be explained by the 
existence of a special aversion from pain sensation (in the psy- 
chological meaning of this term) as such. But I may also feel a 
direct aversion for a very bitter or sour taste, a foul odor, a 
discordant combination of colors, a harsh sound, the very un- 
pleasant state of being bored, or the prospect of any kind of 
emotional misery. There is, in fact, a great variety of sensorial 
and emotional experiences which have just this one element in 
common, namely, the presence of displeasure. These, when 
anticipated, we shrink from or try to avoid; when present we 
attempt to throw off; and when they are removed we rejoice. 
Since these* elements have just one common factor, namely dis- 
pleasure, we are justified in inferring that it is the source of our 
aversion. 

The Content of the Good: An Autobiographical Sketch 

We find ourselves, I believe, in possession of the following 
results. If good be defined simply as that which is the object of 
desire, the good must consist in a miscellaneous lot of items, pos- 
sessing no common characteristic, for which therefore no general 
formula can be found, and constantly in conflict with each other 
in that the attainment of one will often involve the loss of an- 
other. This conclusion is actually accepted as the last word on 
the subject by many contemporary moralists. Before we admit, 
however, that so chaotic a situation represents our best insight 
into the matter, let us see if we can not push our analysis a step 
farther. 

A not inconsiderable part of the literature on this subject 
appears to me to be essentially autobiographical in nature. It 

*iEschylus, Agamemnon; translated by E. D. A. Morahead, The House 
of Atreus, p. 59. 



400 


ETHICS 


is couched, to be sure, in general terms, but the writer, as a 
matter of fact, seems to have his eyes only on himself. I shall 
avail myself of the same privilege and shall accordingly start 
from an account of certain personal attitudes of my own. 

1. I find, then, that for me my good must consist in some 
state of my own consciousness. Nothing appeals to me as a good 
for me except as it forms or promises to form a part of my own 
experience. In his Principia Ethica, Mr. G. E. Moore asks his 
readers to try the following experiment: 


‘‘Let UB imagine one world exceedingly beautiful. Imagine it as 
beautiful as you can; put into it whatever on this earth you most 
admire — ^mountains, rivers, the sea, trees and sunsets, stars and moon. 
Imagine these all combined in the most exquisite proportion so that 
no one thing jars against another, but each contributes to increase 
the beauty of the whole. And then imagine the ugliest world you can 
possibly conceive. Imagine it just one heap of filth, containing every- 
thing that is most disgusting to you for whatever reason, and the 
whole, as far as may be, without one redeeming feature . . . [Now 
imagine that not] any human being ever has or ever by any possi- 
bility can live in either, can see and enjoy the beauty of the one and 
hate the foulness of the other . . . Supposing them quite apart from 
the contemplation of human beings; still is it irrational to hold that 
it is better that the beautiful world should exist than the one which 
is ugly? Would it not be well in any case to do what we could to 
produce it rather than the other?’'* 


To this challenge my mind has never made any other than 
a single response. Provided Mr. Moore’s question is understood 
as he intends it — a matter considered in the following Section — 
my reply is definitely that I should not turn my hand over to 
bring it into existence. On precisely the same grounds, while some 
stirrings of desire about the disposition of my body and about 
my reputation with others after my death may undoubtedly 
make themselves felt now and then, reflection brings to me the 
conviction that if I am to be unconscious of these things they 
can not possibly constitute my good at that time. Of course my 
present belief that I will have a grave of my own, that others 
will speak well of me after I have gone away from them for- 
*Prinoipia Ethica, p. 83. 



THE NATURE OP THE GOOD 


401 


ever may give me a present satisfaction and thus constitute a 
present good. But that is not the problem under discussion. This 
is: Will the attainment of that be a good for me of the existence 
of which, when it comes, I shall have no consciousness? To this 
my mind answers without hesitation: “No.” Here then is a case 
where the desired and the good, for me, part company. I feel 
the desire (somewhat mildly) but recognize the end as not con- 
stituting any part of what I am willing on reflection to call my 
good. Similarly I should not regard the fame of Julius Csesar 
as constituting any part of his good today, provided he is today 
unconscious of its existence. 

2. At the age of twenty-seven. Professor Thomas H. Huxley 
received the greatest honor which it is in the power of the repre- 
sentatives of British science to confer, the gold medal of the 
Royal Society. In a letter to his fiancee, written immediately 
thereupon, after informing her of the fact, he adds these words; 

'And now shall I be very naughty and make a confession? The 
thing that a fortnight ago (before I got it) I thought so much of, I 
give you my word I do not care a pin for, I am sick of it and ashamed 
of having thought so much of it, and the congratulations I get give 
me a sort of internal sardonic grin.”* 

If this means that the obtaining of a long and intensely de- 
sired object yielded him no satisfaction (unfortunately a not 
altogether rare occurrence), then I should say that its possession 
was for him not an intrinsic good. The obtaining of a desired end, 
without a feeling of satisfaction upon attainment, appeals to me 
as an experience absolutely barren of value. 

3. An older student was comforting a younger friend for the 
failure of the latter to be elected to a society supposed to be 
made up of those who had distinguished themselves in the “out- 
side activities” incident to the life of the institution. He said: 
'Tor the first two days after my election (the year before) I 
was tickled pink. After that I never cared anything about it.” 
He was trying to make the boy feel that the honor had had a 
forty-eight hours value and nothing more, because after that 
time the satisfaction of attainment had ceased. I should agree 

*Life and Letters of Thomas H. Huxley, Vol. I, p. 110. 



402 


ETHICS 


with the student on his presentation of the facts. I too should 
say that when the satisfaction of attainment has evaporated 
the intrinsic value has disappeared, although that which was once 
so ardently desired (here membership in a society) continues to 
exist as before. 

From ^^1,” “2,” and “3^^ I draw this conclusion, which, as far 
as I can see, is true at any rate of myself. Mere attainment of a 
desired end does not constitute a good. If I am to regard it as 
intrinsically valuable, attainment must bring satisfaction, and 
(except as memory from time to time reinstates the picture of 
the faded glow) the value lasts only as long as the satisfaction 
endures. 

4. I feel myself compelled to go a step farther. As far as I 
can determine, my estimate of the amount of value rises and 
falls with my estimate of the amount of the satisfaction which 
the attainment of a desired end will produce. When Abraham 
Lincoln, after stepping aside several times, in his unselfish 
fashion, to make way for another candidate for office, was finally 
nominated and elected as a representative in Congress, he said: 
^^My election did not afford me anything like so much satisfac- 
tion as I thought it would.^^ In so far as this statement was true, 
I should say the intrinsic value of the position to him (that is 
to say, apart from any possible effects it might have in the way 
of political position, or financial advancement, or of education in 
citizenship or knowledge of the world), was just so much nearer 
to the zero point. 

5. Many forms of pleasure may arise in consciousness with- 
out the intervention of any desire whatever. This is true of cer- 
tain sense pleasures; for example, that of odor. It is true of all or 
certainly most Aesthetic pleasures. A bank of flowers may thrust 
itself upon the view, a strain of music make itself heard without 
any previous warning and without any “hunger” whatever for it. 
Its pleasurableness is not, like the consciousness of power or 
the acquisition of knowledge, due to the fact that now I am 
in possession of something of which I had previously been feeling 
the want. It is true that such a state may at times accompany 
the Aesthetic pleasures. But the enjoyment of beauty is one thing, 



403 


THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 

the satisfaction which may arise in consequence of an attained 
desire for a repetition of previous enjoyments is quite another. 
Now to me, at least, the enjoyment which has no causal con- 
nection with desire appeals as a good just as unequivocally as 
does the enjoyment which is the creation of a satisfied desire. 
And it appeals to me as a good regardless of whether there is 
by its side in consciousness any satisfaction due to attained 
desire or not. I find, then, that I value many experiences which 
are not identical with those which owe their origin primarily to 
attained desire. 

What is true of pleasure I find holds also of displeasure. When 
my six months* old child was suffering in the grip of a painful 
disease I did not care a particle whether his mind was suflS- 
ciently developed for him to feel a reaction of aversion towards 
the pain, such as I might have felt under similar circumstances; 
I wanted the physician not merely to save the child*s life but 
also to put an end to the pain. The pain was regarded by me 
as an evil for him, apart from any opinion I might have had 
as to his capacity for that mental reaction to pain which is called 
aversion. 

For me, then, the presence of attained desire does not in itself 
constitute an experience as good. Attainment without the satis- 
faction of attainment is valueless. On the other hand there may 
be no desire and yet the experience be regarded, when the ques- 
tion is raised, as a good. If a state is to be good it must be either 
pleasurable as described in or it must afford satisfaction. 
But what is satisfaction? It is an emotion with a certain char- 
acter of its own, as has anger or fear, and soaked through and 
through with pleasure. I thus find that the only element common 
to the states I pronounce good is their pleasure content; that 
where there is complete absence of pleasure in any form I regard 
them as intrinsically valueless; that the greater the pleasure 
content the greater does the good appear to me to be; that the 
parallel relationship obtains between the displeasurable and 
my judgment of evil. Since these things are so I can only con- 
clude that for me, at least, the content of the good must be 
declared to be pleasure. 



404 


ETHICS 


The Content op Good: An Objbctivb Study 

The conclusion stated in the preceding section, like most of 
the numerous other autobiographical contributions to ethics, is in 
itself quite unimportant. It does indeed represent fact, but fact 
perhaps so colored by the personal equation as to throw no real 
light upon the ordinary layman’s judgment of value. It remains 
to inquire, therefore, how far the attitude just described is shared 
by others. The beginnings of an attempt to solve this problem 
are here reported. The investigation should, indeed, be carried 
farther through studies made in other localities and other classes 
in society than those here chosen for examination. But it is com- 
prehensive enough, I believe, to be worthy of careful considera- 
tion. With a view, then, to determining the conditions under 
which the layman will regard an experience as good, I have put 
the first three propositions of the preceding section to forty 
adults in interrogative form. The fourth proposition was 
dropped from the list as of secondary importance. The fifth was 
also omitted because the facts themselves are notorious and 
the only question is how they are to be analyzed; and this is 
rather a question for the expert than the layman. My respondents 
were about equally divided between men and women. They were 
from various walks in life. All had at one time or another been 
students at some college or university, but all, of course, were 
entirely uncontaminated by any acquaintance with ethics, and 
none had the least idea of the relation of his answers to contro- 
versies about value. 

The investigation was conducted by means of a series of per- 
sonal interviews. I began by stating that I wished to discover 
something about people’s ideas concerning intrinsic value; and 
intrinsic value was defined and distinguished from extrinsic as 
at the beginning of Chapter XVIII. Then Mr. Moore’s prob- 
lem, as presented in the words quoted in the preceding section, 
was put. When the reply was given we passed to I read: 
“At the age of twenty-seven, Professor Huxley,” etc., through 
the quotation from his letter, and asked: “If Professor Huxley 
means that the attainment of a long and intensely desired object 
yielded him no feeling of satisfaction would you regard the re- 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 


405 


ceipt of the prize as of any value to him?’’ The third question 
found its subject matter in the incident related under “3.” After 
reciting the facts, as in the text, above, I asked: “Assuming the 
account of his experience given by the older boy to be correct, 
did the honor lose all direct value for him when he had entirely 
ceased to feel any satisfaction at having received it?” 

Every effort was made to secure a correct and complete under- 
standing of the question; in particular, to exclude extrinsic value 
in all its forms from any influence upon the decisions. Accordingly 
when the three answers had been given, in case one or more of 
them aflSrmed value the respondent was asked to leave out of 
account one after another of the following considerations if they 
had had any effect upon his estimate of the situation. 


a. God may be able to see and enjoy the beautiful world, even if the 
creator and his fellow-men do not. 

b. The creator will enjoy the process of creation, as a child may 
enjoy making a house out of blocks. His pleasure might arise from 
the pictures which would be before the outer or the inner eye while 
at his work, or consist in the satisfaction of having done a *^good job,” 
as in solving a difficult puzzle. As a means of getting rid of this factor 
I usually suggested that the beautiful world might come into existence 
with the wave of a hand. 

c. The work of creating this world may be educative, or otherwise 
have some useful reaction upon the intelligence or character of the 
creator. 

d. The creation of the beautiful would prove the existence of certain 
potentialities for good in the universe, a knowledge of which would be 
a source of great satisfaction. A universe in which full many a flower 
is born to blush unseen may well appeal to a person as being rich in 
possibilities of happiness and thus as friendly also. It makes you feel 
comfortable, too, like having a larger income than you can spend; you 
are not living in constant danger of reaching the limit. 

II 

a. Huxley’s family and friends would receive much satisfaction from 
the award, and this fact would inevitably in the end give him satisfac- 
tion also. 

b. He would gain many advantages in the way of professional ad- 
vancement, etc. 

c. He would at least escape the discouragement which might result 
from a failure to receive the prize. (Strictly speaking the avoidance of 
an evil is not in itself a good. For example, a man’s life can not be said 



406 ETHICS 

to be filled with good things simply because he is spared a thousand 
possible misfortunes.) 

d. Since the question had to do with satisfaction at the receipt of 
the prize, all advantages must be excluded from consideration arising 
from the development of intellect and character in the course of the 
work which secured it. 

Ill 

a.-d. (as in 11). 

e. Satisfaction is often derived from the memory of a past success, 
even though the feeling which it once aroused has departed forever. 

f. An honor or any other good once enjoyed, even though later re- 
garded with indifference, '^leaves a good taste in the mouth,” and thus 
affects in some degree, even though he may not be aware of it, a man’s 
attitude towards life, perhaps for years, perhaps indefinitely. 

These precautions having been observed, only five of the 
forty persons interviewed exhibited any evidence what- 
ever of the anhedonic attitude. All five answered I as did Mr. 
Moore himself in the Principia EthicaJ The man whom I shall 
call A said the beautiful world would be pleasant to imagine and 
think about while you were making it. But apart from this he 
thought it worth while to create it though he could not assign 
the reason. The creator, however, must continue to know of the 
existence of his world after it passes out of his sight; otherwise 
its existence would be valueless. Similarly B replied that the act 
of creation would give him great satisfaction, just as, when a 
boy, he used to enjoy putting together ‘‘erector” constructions. 
There was, however, he averred, another factor, which, like his 
predecessor, he was unable to formulate, although he made many 
attempts to do so in the several weeks which elapsed between the 
first and a second interview. C seems to have been moved by 
the consideration listed as “d” above; but the matter lay too 
obscurely in her mind to warrant a positive statement to that 
effect on my part. 

To D and E the question was given first in Mr. Moore^s formu- 
lation, and then (in order to eliminate possible ambiguities in 
the answers) as follows: Suppose an astronomer, by studying 
the spectrum of a star, could know it was an exceedingly beauti- 
ful or an exceedingly ugly world, or had a satellite of one kind 

* Mr. Moore seems later to have abandoned this position. See his Ethics, 
p. 249. 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 


407 


or the other. Nevertheless to man it must forever remain a mere 
point of light, no conscious being ever beholding it as anything 
else; and the beautiful one, as seen by the naked eye or through 
the telescope, appearing indistinguishable from the ugly. To 
this supposition D replied: “The world containing the beautiful 
star is a better world even though no conscious being will ever 
know an5rthing more about it than the bare fact that it is beauti- 
ful.” E said: “For all practical purposes it is the same thing 
whether the world is beautiful or not, but it would give me more 
pleasure to think of it as beautiful.” Neither found the explana- 
tion of his attitude in any of the suggestions of my list. 

A^s answers to II and III seemed anhedonistic. He was, how- 
ever, most hesitant in stating his conclusions (in all three prob- 
lems) ; and, without any suggestion from me, said, as if in apology 
for them: “My feelings tell me one thing, reflection tells me 
the opposite.” He thought he had been influenced in this direc- 
tion by something read in childhood; but just how he did not 
know. At the close of our interview I told him he was the first 
out of ten or twelve respondents to take his position. This 
information did not move him or even interest him in the 
slightest degree. B^s original answers to II and III were anhedo- 
nistic in form, but extrinsic considerations played so large a 
role in their determination that I had to give up the attempt to 
unravel the skein. Anyone who wants him may claim him. The 
answers of C, D, and E to II and III were unequivocally hedo- 
nistic. 

If these responses are at all typical they yield the following 
result: The great majority of laymen evaluate experiences at 
all points precisely as I do. Of forty persons four appear 
to answer Mr. Moore^s question as Mr. Moore himself originally 
did; a fifth should perhaps be added to the number. The first 
two and the fourth had, in part, hedonistic grounds for their 
original answer; and when these considerations are excluded one 
of them is hesitant in the extreme. The other two questions 
(which are really but forms of a single one) are answered in an 
anhedonistic sense by one person, in an hedonistic sense by 
three, and too ambiguously to permit of an opinion on my part, 
by a fifth. 



408 


ETHICS 


With regard to these replies two alternative interpretations 
are open. First, they may prove the existence of minds working 
on fundamentally different lines from those of their fellow-re- 
spondents. Secondly, it may be that I did not succeed in carrying 
my analysis to the end, and in reaching the extrinsic values 
or other irrelevant considerations upon which they were really 
based. Such knowledge of man as we now possess makes it 
improbable that in matters so fundamental as our ultimate atti- 
tude towards values, human minds should be built after radically 
different models. Till decisive evidence to the contrary appears, 
therefore, I think we are justified in accepting the second alter- 
native. In any event certainly some, probably many, and pos- 
sibly all laymen pronounce experiences intrinsically good or bad 
according as they are pleasurable or the reverse. 

The only alternative which our data, as we now have them 
before us, justify us in considering, as far as I can see, is that 
while pleasure as such might be a good, pleasures, or certain 
kinds of pleasure enjoyed under certain conditions might, because 
of the appearance of a new factor not yet discussed, be trans- 
formed into what is on the whole an evil. Furthermore, for a 
similar reason, the facts thus far considered do not compel us 
to conclude that the greatest pleasure is the greatest good. It 
might turn out, namely, that the maximum of value involves the 
presence of an additional factor besides pleasure. These possi- 
bilities I shall consider in the following Chapter. 

The Meaning of Good 

The second problem which we set ourselves to solve at the 
beginning of this Chapter was the meaning of the term good. 
When I say the good consists in pleasure what do I mean by 
calling it good? 

If the preceding analyses are correct for me and hold for 
others also, the good can not be defined by calling it the desired 
as such. For nature has a not inconsiderable stock of gold bricks 
on her counter, and any of us may find himself walking off with 
one of them any time. 

Those moralists who, by whatever route, have reached the 
position that the good can not be equated with the desired are 



409 


THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 

apt to conclude that good is an unanalyzable, and therefore 
undefinable term. This conclusion seems to me to rest, in part at 
least, upon the assumption that the good is either definable in 
terms of desire, or can not be defined at all. I must confess that 
I myself can think of no third alternative which has any appear- 
ance of plausibility. But the position that a term is undefinable 
is always a precarious one, for it can at best mean nothing more 
than this: I do not see any way of defining it. Of course if we 
go far enough we are certain in the end to reach the limit of 
definition; nevertheless we are bound to obey the maxim: “Un- 
definables are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.” I thus find 
myself driven to attempt to define good, if not as equivalent to 
the desired as such, at least as something of which an account 
can be given in terms of desire. Such a description seems to me 
to be permitted by the facts of experience. 

That which is good is as a matter of fact always capable of 
becoming an object of desire. The mistake arises, it seems to me, 
when we ^‘convert” this proposition “simply,” as the logicians 
phrase it, and assert: “All things capable of becoming an object 
of desire are good.” I find in my own experience, as I have said, 
that the latter proposition does not hold good for me; that while I 
may actually desire a variety of things, it is only as attainment 
brings pleasure that, on reflection, I feel any disposition to pro- 
nounce the experience good. And this turns out to be true of other 
persons besides myself. The explanation of this phenomenon 
seems to me to be as follows. When I reflect upon the ends which 
desire bids me pursue I discover that they form a chaotic, 
warring aggregation. There are the desires for the various forms 
of pleasure. They can be brought into harmonious relation by the 
acceptance of the principle that when choice is necessary the 
greater pleasure is to be pursued rather than the less. But there 
are also the anhedonic desires, the desires, namely, whose object 
is not pleasure, such as the desire for power and the desire for 
the good opinion of others. These are constantly liable to con- 
flict with each other. They may also conflict with the desire 
for pleasure. Now when I face these facts I recognize the neces- 
sity of taking a definite and consistent attitude; in other words, 
I must choose, and choose upon some fixed principle. Just as soon 



410 


ETHICS 


as this issue is clearly before me I find that only one alternative 
really appeals to me. I find myself valuing the anhedonic desires 
on precisely the same principle as the hedonic, in proportion, 
namely, to the pleasure which their realization affords. Good, 
thus conceived, can only mean what is desired when refiection 
has led me to reduce the original chaos of desired objects to a 
self-consistent or harmonious system. 

This, however, is not the end of the matter if I may judge 
from what self-observation reports as going on in my own con- 
sciousness. It is not merely true that I find myself preferring 
pleasure to the ends set by the anhedonic desires when the two 
conflict. If this were the whole story it would merely leave the 
latter in the position of the second best. But in moments of 
reflection at any rate I find myself attaching no value whatever 
to the attainment of ends which I distinctly recognize as having 
no pleasure content. Their attraction, such as it was, seems to 
have disappeared. It is with them, as it is with the light of the 
street lamps burning after sunrise. It does not retire to second 
place; for all practical purposes it fades away into nothingness. 
It is indeed possible that the momentum generated by past pur- 
suit might still carry me along the old paths, as far as action 
is concerned. But what I can only describe as glad acceptance of 
the end would be lacking. I might even perceive myself moving 
in the direction of the object in despite of myself, my will not 
being equal to the effort required to stop my course. In- 
deed, a man in such circumstances might conceivably find 
himself at the very same moment pushed forward and cursing 
himself for the way he was going.® The good, thus, is not the 
desired as such. It is that which is desired when we “sit down 
in a cool hour,” reflect upon the relations that obtain between 
the various ends that appeal to us, and squarely face the fact 
that attainment of some is incompatible with that of others. 
We thereupon find ourselves cleaving to some while the attrac- 
tion of others may vanish. That which maintains its place in 
our affection under these conditions is what we call good. If a 

'C/. Shakeepeare’s 129th Sonnet; and along very different lines. Mar- 
meladov’s soliloquy in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Ch. II. Cf, 
James, Principles of Psychology, Vol. II. 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 


411 


definition must be packed into a single phrase, we may say 
that an experience is intrinsically good when it is capable of 
becoming the object of a reflective desire, as the term reflective 
has been used in the preceding description.® 

The situation described in the last paragraph must not for one 
moment be confused with another. I may deliberately yield to 
a desire from whose attainment I expect little or no satisfaction, 
without condemning myself for having sacrificed my good in 
the pursuit of a shadow. For example, I may address myself to 
the task of climbing one rung higher on the social ladder. I may 
have myself observed and even experienced what Paley says 
about this form of emulation.^® I may know its pleasures are 
brief and its risks great. Under these circumstances I may still 
obey the urge of the impulse, not from what I expect to get, but 
from what I hope to avoid. Unsatisfied desires sometimes become 
intensely displeasurable, and I may obey an impulse not for its 
own sake, so to speak, but for the sake of getting rid of the 
pressure which it exerts. Thus in this case also I am moved in 
the last resort by a hedonic valuation. 

The position that pleasure constitutes the sole element of value 
in experience, although it is not the sole object of direct desire, 
is called ^^Ethical Hedonism.’^ This doctrine is to be carefully 
distinguished from the view that pleasure is the sole object of 
desire, which is called ^Tsychological Hedonism.” Neither ought 
to be confused with a third view, which by no means follows 
from either the second or the first, namely, that the sole object 
is my own pleasure. Psychological Hedonism may hold that 
desire may be aroused for the pleasure of others as well as self. 
And the principles of Ethical Hedonism may of course be em- 
ployed in determining what constitutes the good of my neighbor 
just as well as my own good.* 

•C/. Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics, 7th Edition, p. 111. 

“See above, Chapter XVIII, page 360. 

* See Notes, XIX, “The Meaning and Content of Good,” p. 516. 



Chapteb XX 


THE COMPARISON OF VALUES 

Hedonism asserts that there is one element that is common to 
all states which may properly be called intrinsically good, and 
that this element is pleasure. Where a state containing elements of 
displeasure is called good this can only be justified on the ground 
that it is a means to some preponderant pleasure, or that it 
contains both pleasurable and displeasurable elements in which 
the former outweigh the latter. The first is really a case of 
extrinsic goodness; the second is a state which in strict accuracy 
should be called both good and bad, or else predominantly good. 

Hedonism asserts further that pleasures differ only in amount. 
Most Hedonists believe in addition that differences in amount, 
when sufliciently great, can be compared and one experience be 
known to be more pleasurable than the other. These two posi- 
tions must now be examined. We may begin with the former. 

Qualitative Differences in Values 

The view that pleasures differ only in quantity can best be 
examined in relation to its negation. The alternative view is that 
pleasures differ in quality as well as quantity; that some pleas- 
ures are high and others low; and that, on this scale the higher 
pleasures are always intrinsically more worthy of pursuit than 
the less high, while the low pleasures are worse than merely 
valueless, they are positively bad. No one, as far as I am aware, 
has ever succeeded in defining these terms. They must apparently 
be taken as unanalysable and thus ultimate. All that can be 
said about them is that they point to the existence of another 
standard or criterion of the value of a state of consciousness 
besides the amount of pleasure it affords; a standard which takes 
precedence over the merely quantitative standard, if there be 
such a thing, wherever they come into conflict with each other. 

This distinction between higher and lower goods, in my opinion, 

412 



413 


THE COMPARISON OF VALUES 

marks facts and very important facts. But before we can decide 
upon its relation to a purely quantitative theory of value like 
Hedonism, we must inquire carefully what is its precise nature 
and what its source. 

The Explanation of the Distinction Between Higher and 

Lower Goods 

There are two points of view from which we can look out 
upon the life of human beings about us. I shall suggest for each 
a name which, though not entirely adequate, will perhaps serve 
as well as others to mark the distinction I have in mind. The 
first I shall call the sympathetic point of view. It is character- 
ized by the fact that I enter directly into the joys and sorrows 
of my fellows without regard to the appearance they present 
to me in the act of enjoying or suffering. Any pleasure I feel in 
watching them or thinking about them is due immediately to 
altruistic satisfaction in their joy. The significance of this atti- 
tude will appear more clearly from an examination of its anti- 
thesis. This latter I shall call the dramatic or stage view of life. 
For it 

''All the world^s a stage 
And all the men and women merely players.^^ 

Other persons and their experiences are here valued by me in 
proportion as they contribute to my good as a spectator of the 
great drama of human existence. It is in this capacity that I 
pass aesthetic and antipathetic judgments upon their volitions 
and the character behind them, denominate them either beautiful 
or ugly, and demand the former and call for the banishment of 
the latter. This attitude, however, really includes more than was 
enumerated in the descriptions of Chapter X. For the people 
on the stage must among other things be interesting, as the 
theatre-goer uses this term; and this of course means that, 
whatever happens, their performances must not bore me in my 
capacity as spectator. That is to say, what I want as a spectator 
is a good performance. The pleasures of the actors will therefore 
appeal to me as good only in so far as they are the product of 
effort, struggle, and strength of will; they will appeal to me 
as bad in so far as the states in connection with which they 



414 


ETHICS 


arise bore me or disgust me. Accordinglywthe people on the stage, 
if they are to get my applause, must be active, vigorous, not 
mere dull cattle or passive lumps of matter. They must be 
adventurous in spirit in some sense of this term; or if not that, 
they must have dangers and diflBculties thrust upon them, and 
must meet them in gallant style, like “sports.” If I am an 
exclusive enthusiast for this kind of a spectacle and happen at 
the same time to be an Oriental despot like King Kon Tchien 
of Yueh (see Chapter XVI, page 325) I shall see no reason 
why I may not provide myself with material when nature’s 
supply runs low. If I am a highly intellectual person my taste 
may not run so completely to action in the popular sense of 
this term. What I will like to see will be intellectual activity and 
vigor, and the pleasures I shall want to watch people enjoy 
will be those connected with the use of the intellect. In any 
event there must be struggle or effort of some kind, and up to 
a certain point the more the better. On the whole, for most 
spectators, the struggles of the will are the most interesting to 
watch. Hence the maxim: “A good man struggling with adversity 
is a sight for the gods.” Of course the full exploitation of such 
scenes on the part of the spectator, so that he may extract from 
them the largest measure of enjoyment, requires the possession 
of some sympathy, some power of putting oneself in the place 
of others. But it does not require a great deal. We may remember 
Professor James’ reference to the Russian woman at the play 
who was weeping at the sorrows of the personages on the stage 
while her coachman was freezing to death outside. Mr. Peck- 
sniff is in certain respects an excellent representative of this 
attitude towards life. “It is always satisfactory,” he once re- 
marked, “to feel in keen weather that many other people are 
not so warm as you are. For if everyone were warm and well 
fed we should lose the satisfaction of admiring the fortitude 
with which certain conditions of men bear cold and hunger.” 
But Mr. Pecksniff’s capacity to put himself in the place of others, 
— such as it was, — ^never went far enough to lead him to imperil 
a single interest of his own for the sake of anyone else. 

The stage attitude towards life of course gives rise to its own 
vocabulary. Those experiences of the actors which I enjoy watch- 



415 


THE COMPARISON OF VALUES 

ing I shall call good; their opposite bad. They are, in fact, good 
and bad for me, in that they afford me pleasure or displeasure 
respectively in my capacity as spectator of the play. 

It should go without saying that, looking at myself in a mental 
mirror, so to speak, I may assume the attitude of spectator of 
myself. In this case I apply the terms of the theater to my own 
experiences also, and thus may make the same demands upon 
self that I do upon others. Since I am at once actor and spectator, 
the spectator's good is as such my good. On the other hand, 
if as actor I have no self-consciousness but completely forget to 
watch myself, lose sight, as it were, of the looking-glass, then 
the evils which other spectators may have to endure in seeing 
me play my part are not shared by me. They may, however, 
of course, appear when memory begins to work — provided 
memory ever gets to work. 

There is general agreement among psychologists that if we 
confine our attention rigidly to the pleasure element in our vari- 
ous experiences we shall discover among them no differences 
other than quantitative. If the preceding account of the source 
of the distinction between the higher and the lower pleasures is 
adequate, the position taken by the psychologists is sound. For 
according to our description the distinction between the higher 
and the lower pleasures is due not to anything in the pleasures 
themselves, but to differences in the conditions under which they 
arise. It is a distinction made by the spectator, not — if I may 
use the term — by the experiencer as such. The higher pleasures 
are those which are felt by a man who is doing or experiencing 
that which arouses my admiration, or at least my interest, as I 
watch him actually or in imagination; or in other words, they 
are the products of actions that afford a fine spectacle. And 
if my feelings as spectator seem to go out to the pleasure as 
well as to the activities by which it was brought into existence, 
this is only a parallel to the principle that where you love a 
woman you have a tendency to love the members of her family. 
What most effectively arouses admiration and indeed interest 
is the exhibition of power, and power involves activity. Hence 
the higher pleasures are those which are the fruits of activity, 
whether of intellect or will. Those, on the other hand, are low 



416 


ETHICS 


which are either the product of activities that are directly revolt- 
ing to me as spectator, or which at best bore me to watch. It 
must be remembered that I may be the spectator of myself and 
thus take the same attitude towards my own pleasures. And it 
must be noted that these distinctions between higher and lower 
seem never to be applied to displeasures. The reason for this 
peculiar phenomenon may be that in the presence of displeasure 
in real life we drop the stage attitude, since it is much easier to 
sympathize with people^s displeasures than with their pleasures. 
But whatever the explanation there can be no doubt about the 
fact. 

The Revolt Against Perfection 

The foregoing explanation seems to me to supply the key to a 
good many facts. It accounts among other things for the attitude 
taken by many people towards perfection of any kind. 'The 
picture of the ideal hedonistic state is tame and insignificant/^ 
writes Professor Royce, and supposes that he has thereby annihi- 
lated Hedonism.^ This characterization contains a good deal of 
truth in so far as it is the expression of the stage view of life. The 
play to be interesting can not be one long narration of happiness ; 
there must be evil to arouse the reaction of the will against evil ; 
it is not the good as such but the conquest of the evil by the 
good that is interesting to watch. When the couple have reached 
the point where they will live happily ever afterwards the curtain 
is rung down and the play is over. 

These facts do not prove, however, that pleasure as such is 
not a good. For the argument can be turned equally against any 
other formulation of the good. It holds, for example, against the 
claims of moral perfection to be the ultimate good. Here also 
the man in the parquet wants to see not success, but struggle 
toward success with its inevitable attendant failures. Madame du 
Defifand, who conducted the most famous of the Parisian salons 
in the great days of Louis XV, though apparently a darling of 
the gods, was, in fact, a profoundly unhappy being. The trouble 
was in part that she was very lonely; she had no intimate friend. 
This woman, she complained, had this fault and that woman 

^ The ReUgioue Aepect of PhUoeophy, p. 186. 



417 


THE COMPARISON OF VALUES 

that fault, and therefore she could not abide them. But then, 
there was the Duchesse de Choiseul. Yes, but she was perfect, 
and this was the worst fault of all. “Elle est parfaite; et c^est 
un plus grand d4faut qu^on ne pense et qu^on ne saurait im- 
aginer.” Of coiu-sel How can a faultless person be interesting 
to a man or woman who cares for people primarily only in so 
far as they afford him an entertaining spectacle? * 

The Basis and Limitations of the Claims of the Higher 

Goods 

So much by way of description and explanation. Now for the 
normative problem. What is to be our attitude towards the higher 
goods when the pursuit of them would involve loss of pleasure 
to the agent? My answer is first that beauty is one of our most 
precious possessions, and that there is as certainly a beauty of 
manners, behavior, and enjoyment as there is a beauty of color, 
form, and sound. Since we are spectators of our own lives it 
may be our pleasure to embody beauty in our conduct. Since 
others are spectators of our lives it may conceivably become 
our duty to do so. 

But there is certainly a limit to this duty. ‘'Would you have us 
die of cold that our town may look nice for visitors?^^ inquired 
a Leningrad sledgedriver of Mr. Ransome when the latter was 
complaining of the injury done to the appearance of the city 
in the years since the revolution by the wrecking of buildings in 
order to obtain firewood. Observe the complications introduced 
into the problem by the fact that the wrecked houses spoil the 
appearance of the city not merely for the passing foreign traveler 
but for its inhabitants also. The same problem arose again and 
again a generation ago in the destruction of some of the pic- 
turesque slums in the Italian cities. I for one can never be too 
thankful that I saw many of these fascinating places before the 
heavy hand of the reformer had been laid upon them. But I 

” William James’s characterization of the Chautauqua Lake Assemblies 
in his essay, “What Makes a Life Significant?” appears to me partly a 
statement of certain truths which I have tried to present above in Chap- 
ter XVIII, p. 369 f., partly an expression of the stage view of life. For 
Madame du Defiand, see Lytton Strachey, Books and Characters, p. 99. 



418 


ETHICS 


can not wish the work undone^ There is thus a limit to the sacri- 
fice which people can properly be asked to make for beauty. 

'The budding poet, strolling city streets, drinks in the changing 
spectacle like wine. The beggar woman, crouching in picturesque rags 
among burnt umber shadows, makes for him a casual Rembrandt. 
Athwart the jeweled shoulders gleaming from passing carriages stands 
out the street girFs haggard painted face. Wonderful, terrible contrasts 
of this life! — ^he thinks, with all of youth’s aesthetic thrill. But if the 
call of real life comes to him, he is ready to act, to dare, and to endure 
that this wonderful contrast may disappear and the world become a 
prosaic better place for a woman to live in.”* 

Similarly I may admire a cultivated man. But I shall hardly 
be justified in demanding that he train his powers of apprecia- 
tion in art and science merely in order that he may present a 
more agreeable appearance to me. 

Fortunately, however, the problem practically never arises in 
this form. The man with a capacity for appreciation in the field 
of art or science (and for any other the attempt would end in 
failure) has reasons enough for working to develop it apart 
from the thought of the impression he will make upon the minds 
of a few educated people. Furthermore, in many cases the aim 
to develop beauty of mind is self-destructive. In the main, beauty 
of character comes to those who are thinking of something else ; 
and this is true^ to a very considerable extent, of all forms of 
personal perfection. 

The same principles apply to the removal of the ugly from 
life. If I may be allowed to drop into autobiog